Over the past few years, there has been a lot of attention paid to John Ashbery’s unusual and beautiful house in Hudson, New York, and its relationship to his poetry and aesthetics. I’ve written about this before on a number of occasions, including about the concept behind “The Ashbery Home School” writers retreat (which at least originally involved a visit to the Ashbery home), a recent gallery exhibit devoted to Ashbery as collector, and a gathering of critical essays on Ashbery’s “created spaces” in Rain Taxi.
If you aren’t one of the lucky few to be able to visit Ashbery’s home in person, rest easy: you can now visit this remarkable house virtually, thanks to “John Ashbery’s Nest,” a stunning new project produced by Karin Roffman (who has just published a biography of Ashbery’s early years), in conjunction with the Yale Digital Humanities Lab.
As the website puts it:
“John Ashbery’s Nest” is a website centered on a virtual tour of the Victorian home of American poet, collagist, art critic and collector John Ashbery (1927-). The site provides a unique opportunity not only to see the art, objects, books and furniture in this house–the only home Ashbery has ever owned–but also to hear Ashbery read from related poems and talk about the provenance and resonance that these things, including the space itself, have played in his creative life. Ideally a visit to the interior of the (virtual) house makes one want to return to the interior life of the poems and vice versa, each illuminating the other.
Ashbery purchased the home in Hudson, New York at the age of fifty-one in 1978 and painstakingly restored and decorated it over a fifteen-year period. Using the 4000 square-foot house (the only home he has ever owned) as a place to display his many collections of small decorative objects, ceramics, furniture and art work, each of the fourteen rooms provides an original frame for his unique assemblages.
In exploring the sights and sounds of the Hudson house, we hope you will experience the wonder and intimacy of being in “the middle of things,” a reality that echoes in Ashbery’s poems. Hear John Ashbery read his poems. Listen as Ashbery discusses the history of the house and the provenance of furniture and objects with his partner David Kermani. Learn more about Ashbery’s long interest in houses and collections and the ways these personal interests play out in his poetry, art criticism and collages and vice versa.
The website is overflowing with stuff to look at, investigate, watch, and listen to — there are video clips and recordings of Ashbery discussing the objects in his home and reading his poems, archival details about the objects and their provenance, pieces by Ashbery that reveal his fascination with houses and collecting, and critical writings on the topic.
This project seems to be a work in progress, and so far, the virtual tour is limited to the Central Hall of the home. However, you can see photos and read about other rooms in the house. The creators explain that they plan to complete a virtual reality tour for 14 rooms in the house over time.
“John Ashbery’s Nest” is a real feast for any Ashbery fan, while also standing as a great example of what digital humanities scholarship can achieve. You can check out the whole site here.