This autumn Charleston will launch its first exhibition space, as well as an events space and new restaurant. This 570m2 new development will enable Charleston to present exhibitions for the first time and see it open all-year-round. The exhibition space will be housed in a new building designed by Jamie Fobert Architects, while the events space and restaurant will be situated in two 18th-century farm buildings, restored and redeveloped by Julian Harrap Architects.
The development will launch on 8 September 2018 with the inaugural exhibition ‘Orlando at the present time’, which will present a contemporary response to Virginia Woolf’s renowned novel Orlando: A Biography. The exhibition will be accompanied by two additional displays, ‘Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases’ and the first museum showing of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service.
The building of the new exhibition space and the restoration of the barns have been made possible thanks to £2.44 million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) – thanks to National Lottery players, £650,000 from Coast to Capital LEP, £250,000 from Arts Council England and major grants from the Wolfson Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement, the Monument Trust, the Foyle Foundation and The Ashley Family Foundation, as well as a group of generous individuals.
The Sussex home of artists Vanessa Bell (1879–1961) and Duncan Grant (1885–1978), Charleston farmhouse is the only completely preserved Bloomsbury interior in the world and is considered one of the Bloomsbury group’s finest works of art. Since opening to the public in 1986, its delicate painted interiors and eclectic collection of furniture, textiles, books and ceramics have been enjoyed by over half a million visitors.
The ideas and radicalism of the artists, writers and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group will be at the heart of Charleston’s new programme, which will interrogate the contemporary relevance of those who lived and worked at Charleston over 100 years ago. Through a mix of contemporary and historic exhibitions, new programming will explore their experimental and international creativity, which pioneered controversial ways of living and of making art. The scope of the group’s specialities, encompassing novelist Virginia Woolf, biographer Lytton Strachey and economist John Maynard Keynes, will allow for a naturally broad range of themes including gender and sexual politics, pacifism and internationalism, interior design and fashion.
The opening exhibition will bring together contemporary artistic responses to Virginia Woolf’s landmark novel Orlando: A Biography and will mark 90 years since its original publication. Works by artists including Kaye Donachie, Paul Kindersley, Delaine La Bas and Matt Smith will be shown alongside rarely seen letters, photographs and objects pertaining to the original publication of the novel. Orlando’s innovative use of a protagonist who appears to change gender has made it an important reference point for those interested in gender and feminist theory and its re-examination at Charleston this autumn will connect both with the Bloomsbury group’s queer history and the ever-increasing interest in discussions about gender.
‘Orlando at the present time’ will be accompanied by two further displays. ‘Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases’ will present a selection of black-and-white photographic portraits from the artist’s well known series documenting black lesbian and transgender individuals from South Africa and beyond. The works on show in this iteration of the series have been specially selected by the artist in response to ‘Orlando at the present time’, in which two of Muholi’s works from the series will also appear.
Also on display will be the first museum showing of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service. This unique set of 50 plates depicts famous women throughout history, from Cleopatra to Mary Queen of Scots, Jane Austen, Greta Garbo and others. The dinner service was commissioned by Kenneth Clark in 1932 and was made by Bell and Grant during their time at Charleston. The plates will be shown alongisde a number of prototypes and drawings from Charleston’s collection.
The new building by Jamie Fobert Architects has been constructed in cross-laminated timber, making reference to the wooden structure of Charleston’s historic barns yet employing modern fabrication techniques. The building will house a suite of galleries and a retail space. The three cubic galleries echo the proportions of the main living spaces of Charleston farmhouse, communicating a sense of balance and familiarity between the old and the new.
Using traditional techniques, Julian Harrap Architects has restored two adjoining 18th-century farm buildings which were substantially damaged by fire in the 1980s. The Hay Barn will become a flexible events space, which will enable Charleston to present talks and performances, as well as its existing programme of literary festivals and events. The other, the Threshing Barn, will house a new restaurant of that name.
New contemporary farmyard courtyards, allowing visitors to Charleston and the South Downs National Park the opportunity to eat al fresco, have been designed by Tom Stuart-Smith Ltd, who will also oversee the landscape construction over the coming months.
Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive of the Charleston Trust said:
“These new facilities will make Charleston into a public centre for thinking, making, writing and working. Much like the artists who lived here, our programme will be radical, unconventional and international.”
Further information on the opening exhibitions
Orlando at the present time Wolfson Gallery 8 September 2018 – 6 January 2019
Orlando: A Biography is considered one of the most progressive and formally inventive works of fiction of the 20th century. A satirical biography, it describes the adventures of a fictional poet named Orlando whose fantastical travels span four centuries, from the Renaissance to the 1920s. Inspired in part by Woolf’s close friend and lover Vita Sackville-West, who was gender non-conforming, Orlando sees its protagonist change gender from man to woman halfway through the narrative. The novel’s resultant exploration of identity and gender – and its implicit challenge to rigid identity binaries – has made it a crucial reference point in gender theory, from its publication to the present day. First published in 1928, this year marks 90 years of Orlando’s influence.
‘Orlando at the present time’ will explore Virginia Woolf’s problematisation of gender, as well as the continued contemporary relevance of the gender issues raised by the novel and its other themes, such as colonialism and exoticism. New works of visual art responding directly to the text have been commissioned from Paul Kindersley and Delaine La Bas, whilst other works offering thought-provoking reflections on the novel’s concerns will also be on display, by Kaye Donachie, Matt Smith and Zanele Muholi.
Unusually for a novel of this period, Orlando incorporates a series of illustrations and a number of the new commissions respond directly to them. Also on display will be photographs by Annie Leibovitz taken at Monk’s House, Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s country retreat, and Sissinghurst, the home of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson.
The exhibition will also examine the history of the novel itself, its controversial reception and its relation to Virginia Woolf’s own life. Nigel Nicolson, son of Vita Sackville-West, called it the ‘longest and most charming love letter in literature’, whilst Vita Sackville-West’s mother attempted to besmirch Orlando in order to quell rumours of an affair between her daughter and Virginia Woolf.
Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases South Gallery 8 September 2018 – 6 January 2019
‘Faces and Phases’ (2006– ) is an ongoing series of black-and-white photographic portraits by Zanele Muholi, commemorating and celebrating black lesbian and transgender experience. Muholi embarked on this project in 2006, taking portraits of women from the townships of South Africa. In 2008, after the xenophobic and homophobic attacks that led to the mass displacement of people in that country, Muholi decided to expand the series to include photographs of individuals from different countries. Collectively, the portraits can be seen as an act of visual activism.
Describing the project, Muholi has said that ‘Faces and Phases’ is an “insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys. I set out to establish relationships with them based on a mutual understanding of what it means to be a black member of the LGBTQIA+ community today.”
The Famous Women Dinner Service Spotlight Gallery On display until summer 2019
Charleston will host the first museum display of Vanessa Bell and Duncant Grant’s Famous Women Dinner Service since it was created for Kenneth Clarke in 1932. After this the plates disappeared from public view and their whereabouts was unknown until very recently. The plates were created by Bell and Grant when they lived at Charleston and each plate depicts one famous woman, featuring figures as various as the Queen of Sheba, Sappho, Nell Gwyn, Emily Brontë and Elizabeth I. There are 50 plates in the set, with the final two depicting Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the only man in the series.
CRESSIDA BELL talks to her sister, Virginia Nicholson, about Charleston, her design work and curating ‘In Colour.’
Informal reading and discussion group, exploring Bloomsbury texts and themes. First Sunday of every month.