Soho House: The art of curation

Kate Bryan, the head of Soho House‘s global art collection, tells David Ho how she curates one of the biggest privately owned art assemblages in the world

Kate Bryan, head of global art collection for Soho House. Photo: Gina Soden

It makes sense that Soho House would have an extensive art collection. After all, the members club is known for gathering and hosting global creatives of all sorts under its roofs. The collection numbers nearly 8,000 artworks on permanent display across 14 countries and counting, making it one of the largest of its kind.

The collection follows a theme at each house, an impressive curating feat when there are over 40 member clubs across the globe. Soho House Rome follows a theme of “saints and sinners” while Brighton Beach House showcases works exclusively from the international LGBTQIA+ community. Given its Hollywood connection, Soho Warehouse in downtown Los Angeles turns the spotlight on edgy works of “hot young stars”.

Each showcases art by local artists, featuring iconic works as well as emerging talent. “Whilst each house has a very distinct set of works which reflect the location, when taken as a whole what unites the artworks we select is that they represent the best of what is being created in our time. We see it very much as a collection for the members,” explains Bryan.

“The remit of the curatorial premise is very much dictated by the location. For example, the Nashville house that opened last year is a collection that represents artists born, based or trained in the city. It’s a far smaller art scene than say New York or Los Angeles, but we wanted to show it off and be one of the first places where you can see an in-depth focus of art which is from Nashville. Paris on the other hand, is only about 70 percent French artists because it’s much more of an international art hub and wants to be viewed in that way.”

Also see: Art Central: Making art the central focus

The art is not in storage like many corporate collections or museums, but situated where members mingle. In Soho House Hong Kong, the pieces displayed across all floors is a permanent art collection. It is entirely focused on artists born or based in Hong Kong, making it a unique and comprehensive celebration of the local art scene.

It features over 100 artworks from museum level artists such as Lee Kit and Tsang Kin Wah, to younger artists such as Firenze Lai. The collection will also include key historic material from generations past including Ho Fan, Yau Leung, Wong Wo Bik and Choi Yan Chi.   

Bryan has a personal connection to Hong Kong, given that she used to be a student at the University of Hong Kong. Her time here definitely impacted the way she curated the collection for Soho House Hong Kong.    

“When I was in Hong Kong, I used to write exhibition reviews and was struck by the fact that so few Hong Kong artists were given exhibition opportunities when the bigger galleries started to open after ART HK began (which later turned to Basel). I really believed it was a missed opportunity not to work within the local scene, as galleries like Blindspot have such an incredible programme and I was very fortunate to work with them,” she says.

Kate Bryan with visual artist David Shrigley.

“I really wanted the collection to shine a light on all the talent in the city rather than the city as strong global art market. As usual I have selected artists from the beginning of their career all the way through to museum level names. When I started building this collection people expressed scepticism about me being able to find enough great local artists, which made me all the more keen to prove them wrong and show the robust nature of nature Hong Kong artists! Because it was so unusual at the time I felt a responsibility to include artists who had been integral to the art landscape in the recent past so I included artists who had passed on such as Wong Wo Bik and Yau Leung.”

Some of her favourite artists in Soho House Hong Kong include Leung Chi Wo. “He has such a diverse body of work but it’s all unified by a very careful distillation of socio-cultural issues into beautifully presented objects. They work on so many levels. The work at Soho House Hong Kong is an amazing synthesis of Hong Kong politics, memory, family history and a deeply personal perspective whilst at the same time being something that has such wall power,” says Bryan.

Other favourites of hers include Ant Ngai’s distinctive and surreal depictions of people with fish heads and Frog King, a performance artist whom she considers an icon of the local arts scene. There are some based abroad that she admires.

Lee Kit, 22 Celsius Degree

“Vivien Zhang and Faye Wei Wei were born in Hong Kong and are now based in London where they are making real waves and are part of an internationally shown group that represent Hong Kong outside of the city along with artists like Lee Kit, Gordon Cheung and Cary Kwok,” she says.

The collection is one way she is supporting the local scene, as she acknowledges that “there are very few opportunities for emerging and mid-career local artists to exhibit, be written about, supported with prizes and residencies if you compare the scene to other places with a strong art market”, despite the presence of big art fairs here.

“Therefore, what I see in Hong Kong-based artists is a tenacity, a willingness to make art at all costs and to persevere and take up space even when there hasn’t always been a massive audience.”

Photos by Soho House

Also see: The return of art events

In this Story: #art & design