BY Matthew McLean in Culture | 15 DEC 23

House of Voltaire Does Your Christmas Shopping for You

How one London non-profit is cornering the crowded market in presents for the art-lover; plus, a gift guide for the creatively curious worldwide

BY Matthew McLean in Culture | 15 DEC 23

Some of us spend most of the year looking at and thinking about art; so why should the weeks around Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa etc be any different? For those with interests in the trade, what’s more pleasurable, after months of reading auction reports or strolling pre-sold fair stands, than having the chance to actually own something an artist devised?

Stalwart London-based non-profit Studio Voltaire has been seizing on this opportunity for years, with its House of Voltaire Christmas season pop-ups taking over vacant spaces across Mayfair to offer its wares: the most recent takes the form of a group show entitled ‘TWENTY-NINE’, which runs at Thomas Dane Gallery until 16 December.

Studio Voltaire began making artist editions in 2006, Director Joe Scotland explains, launching at the ‘bargain price’ of £50. ‘It really helped build up a loyal base of supporters, and also made it very accessible – where else could you get Phyllida Barlow, Enrico David or Jeremy Deller for 50 quid?’ House of Voltaire was born in 2010, with a year-round line of limited editions as well as quirky homewares and inimitable items, like Christmas tree decorations by the iconoclastic Linder or washing-up gloves decorated by Wilma Johnson of the Neo-Naturists (I got my pair framed).

House of Voltaire
Studio Voltaire team with France-Lise McGurn, 100% Silk Square Scarf; Hurvin Anderson, 100% Cashmere Blanket; Jochen Holz Tumbler. On wall, left to right: Scott Covert, Lifetime Drawing, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, undated; Scott Covert, Artist’s Composition, 2021–2022. Photo: Shingi Rice


This activity opens several avenues for the organisation. ‘House of Voltaire was always intended to be pretty accessible,’ says Scotland. For many customers, ‘it may be their first art purchase, and, in previous years, it has also proved someone’s first point of engagement with Studio Voltaire, ultimately leading to increased engagement with our exhibition, studios and learning programmes’. As well as audience engagement, House of Voltaire offers emerging artists a visible platform and a revenue stream (as the organization has grown over the years, Scotland notes, they have ‘moved to more of a profit-share model with the artists – particularly less established ones’). But for established artists, there’s a chance to ‘produce something outside of their usual practice and to reach a much wider audience’.

Case in point: House of Voltaire’s highly covetable woollen blankets, designed by the likes of Camille Henrot, KAWS, Nicolas Party, Sanya Kantarovsky and Jonas Wood, which can be found in homes from New York (where editor, author and consultant Diane Solway is a fan) to Monaco (where patron Nicoletta Fiorucci has a green Enrico David number, which, like other blankets, quickly sold out its run). This year at Frieze London, where Studio Voltaire presents editions with other London- and UK-based institutions annually under the banner of Allied Editions, they launched a luxurious cashmere blanket by painter Anna Weyant, alongside limited editions by Lubna Chowdhary, Christina Kimeze and Mary Stephenson.

Photo by Shingi Rice
Jake Grewal with his works: Now I Know You, 2023 (left) and Edge of Nowhere, 2023 (right). Photo: Shingi Rice  

The Hurvin Anderson blanket is at the top of London-based artist Jake Grewal’s Christmas list, along with a drawing from RB Kitaj he spotted in London gallery exhibition. Growing up in south London, he’s been visiting Studio Voltaire since he was a teenager, so the opportunity to create editions with the organization ‘happened organically’. The artist’s first time working with an external print studio has resulted in a risograph, ‘something in-between a painting and a drawing’, Grewal says. Reproducing a 2019 work in ink, Regardless of dust they advise breathing (2021) is set on cream paper. ‘I wanted to create the feeling of the coloured pencil drawing. It feels like the light is pushing through the layers of ink,’ Grewal says. Also on offer are two etchings, a long-running part of Grewal’s practice alongside drawing and painting. ‘The layering of plates in etching speaks to my interest in creating composite images from different source material,’ he says, their mood ‘jewel-like, intimate yet expansive’.

Photo: Shingi Rice
Studio Voltaire team exchanging gifts with artists Mary Stephenson and Sola Olulode. On wall: Mary Stephenson, Deep Pale Yellow, 2023. Photo: Shingi Rice  

Grewal’s work is included in ‘TWENTY-NINE’, alongside unique artworks by Scott Covert and Thea Djordjadze and editions by Ella Kruglyanska – all luminaries of Studio Voltaire’s exhibition programme – as well as new ceramics by Richard Slee and Aaron Angell, and hybrid functional artworks by plastic-sculptor James Shaw and France-Lise McGurn, whose painted lamp and glass coffee tables were produced for a solo project at the permanent House of Voltaire space on site at Studio Voltaire. During the pop-up runs, sessions with guest shopkeepers will include Louisa Buck, Nicholas Cullinan, Priyesh Mistry and Frieze’s very own Nathan Clements-Gillespie. These events are ‘always a wonderful moment in the advent calendar – fun, buzzing and meaningful’, says Thomas Dane Gallery’s François Chantala, whose eye is on the Pablo Bronstein St-Sebastian pencil holder. (What does he like to give people at Christmas? ‘Hopefully something they really want! Art: or something to drink.’) 

Jochen Holz Tumblers. Photo: Shingi Rice
Jochen Holz tumblers. Photo: Shingi Rice

‘TWENTY-NINE’ is far from the only offering for the culture-vulture consumer this year. Alongside other Allied Editions stalwarts – like Camden Arts Centre, ICA), South London Gallery, Serpentine and Whitechapel Gallery - other London institutions well-timed recent offerings include Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art’s fifth anniversary editions, including a hand-painted mirror by Saelia Aparicio; or Queer Circle’s ceramic figure by Rafal Zjako (Queer Circle’s first edition, by Michaela Yearwood-Dan, sold out within days, so get clicking). Select editions from London non-profits Chisenhale and Gasworks by the likes of Anthea Hamilton, Camille Henrot, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa and Mika Rottenberg and are currently available at a holiday discount through Docent, patron and entrepreneur Helene Nguyen-Ban’s collecting platform.

Studio Voltaire team with Martino Gamper, Slice & Dice Mirror (2020). Photo: Shingi Rice
Studio Voltaire team with Martino Gamper, Slice & Dice Mirror (2020). Photo: Shingi Rice

Beyond non-profits, commercial galleries big and small are also paying attention to the segment of their audiences that might not have the mega-bucks to drop on a blue-chip investment piece but can afford something delightfully accessible. Mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth launched a dedicated space for editions this summer in New York with a display of works by Louise Bourgeois, available online; emerging spaces are at it too, with east London’s up-and-comer Rose Easton’s new web shop offering small-edition sculptural pieces like cuffs and belt buckles by recent signing Arlette. ‘Merchbau’, a show opening this month at London’s artist space OHSH Projects, explores the intersection of artmaking and merchandising: think less Jeff Koons for Louis Vuitton and more punk paintings, sew-on patches and mock band T-shirts by Martyn Cross and Sue Webster.

Richard Slee. Photo: Shingi Rice
Richard Slee with his works: (clockwise from left) Arcady (1), 2023; Arcady (2), 2023; Arcady (3), 2023. In the background: James Shaw, Plastic Baroque Chair. Photo: Shingi Rice

This time of year is also one for not just giving to loved ones but giving back. After Hamas’s terrorist atrocities in Israel in October, the ensuing war in Gaza has seen the deaths of 9,000 civilian children. In response, artists like Collier Schorr participated in Prints for Palestine, offering photographic prints in editions of 100 to raise funds for Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). Meanwhile, the initiative Postcards for Palestine has solicited postcard-sized works by 1,000 artists to be offered at blind sales for £30 each, with proceeds going to PCRF and the UN Reliefs and Works Agency. Visit the pop-up exhibition at east London’s Claire de Rouen Books this month for a chance to acquire work by Ida Ekblad, Alfredo Jaar, Tai Shani and Joanna Piotrowska. A gift like that? Worth giving twice.

‘TWENTY-NINE’ is at Thomas Dane Gallery, London until 16 December

‘Postcards for Palestine’ is at Clare de Rouen Books, London 1416 December

‘Merchbau’ is at OHSH Projects South, London 1622 December

More holiday gift ideas for art-lovers worldwide:

The Jewish Museum, New York

Mel Bochner ‘Kvetch’ Mug


Leeum Museum, Seoul

Kim Beom I.I.T. Soap


Artist Plate Project

Lisa Yuskavage Plate


ICA, Los Angeles

Mark Bradford Logo Market Bag


Printed Matter, New York

Ivy Zheyu Chen, pfdB (bat) risograph


Main Image, front: David Shrigley, Heroin and Cocaine shakers ; France-Lise McGurn, 100% Silk Square Scarf. In the back, left to right: Jochen Holz Tumblers; Jochen Holz, Blue vase with copper lustre ; Pablo Bronstein, ‘Saint Sebastian’ Pencil Holder. Photo: Shingi Rice

Matthew McLean is creative director at Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.