Ten major artworks from our collection and the untold stories behind them

A painting of a shark signed by Damien Hirst on a copper wall.

Damien Hirst’s afterparty inspiration, Tracey Emin’s rule-breaking, Sir David Adjaye’s top-secret contribution, and other unknown facts from Soho House's 5,800-piece collection 

By Kate Byran   Above image: Damien Hirst installation at Soho House Berlin (Mark Seelen)    Sunday 9 August, 2020   Long read 

Art has been synonymous with Soho House since its very inception. La Colombe d’Or hotel in Saint-Paul-de-Vence – where Picasso, Miró and Matisse donated the odd piece of artwork in return for a free meal – was a font of inspiration for founder Nick Jones, and subsequently the interiors across the Soho House portfolio. Now host to an impressive 5,800-strong collection, Kate Bryan, Global Head of Collections for the group, selects 10 key works and shares the surprising stories behind them.

1. Soho House Berlin
Damien Hirst. Site-specific installation, 2010
Spray paint on board

In 2010, Damien Hirst travelled to Berlin for an exhibition. The afterparty was at the soon to be opened Soho House Berlin, the first outside of London in Europe. Nick Jones handed Hirst a spray can and egged him on to paint something on the exterior hoarding. In a flash of inspiration, Hirst revisited his iconic work, ‘The Physical Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living’ (1991) and created this shark, now an icon of our collection. Shortly afterwards, it was carefully cut out from the construction hoarding and safely preserved in the ground floor of Soho House Berlin.
A drawing of a nude.
Tracey Emin ‘I Looked For You’, 2018
2. 40 Greek Street
Tracey Emin ‘I Looked For You’, 2018

Marker pen on paper

In late 2017, I invited 20 established artists exhibiting in London to play a surrealist game. Walk The Line asked the artists to follow in Paul Klee’s footsteps and make a continuous single-line drawing, not removing the pen or the pencil from the page. As I anticipated, many of the artists broke the rules in interesting ways. But Emin, a devoted draughtsperson, delivered the most exquisite and compelling single-line drawing. Naturally, we can’t help but think of her famous work, ‘My Bed’ (1998).
Wallpaper with women's faces on it.

Genevieve Gaignard. Site-specific installation, 2018

Wallpaper with women's faces on it.
3. DTLA Warehouse
Genevieve Gaignard. Site-specific installation, 2018

Mixed media

In 2018, Genevieve Gaignard exhibited at LA’s Underground Museum in an exhibition curated by its pioneering artist founder, Noah Davis. Her work was a large wallpaper installation that I commissioned her to revisit for a permanent installation at Soho Warehouse, just a few blocks away. Taking vintage wallpaper as her starting point, Gaignard collaged cut-outs from Life, Ebony, and Jet magazines, lending historic imagery a renewed energy. Her work is in constant dialogue with identity politics, investigating class, gender and race. The result is one of the largest works in the collection and one of a few site-specific installations.
A white bust of a person.

Kevin Francis Gray ‘Soho Girl’, 2017

A sketch of a building.

Sir David Adjaye ‘130 William Sketch’, 2017

4. 40 Greek Street
Kevin Francis Gray ‘Soho Girl’, 2017

Statuario marble

It is not always easy to accommodate sculpture in the Houses, but we are aiming to increase three-dimensional work across all our sites. As one of the leading figures in large marble sculpture, the Irish artist Kevin Francis Gray was the obvious choice to commission a plinth- based work for the terrace at 40 Greek Street. Weighing in at more than 700kg, this sculpture is the heaviest work in the collection. It was created in Pietrasanta in Italy, where Michelangelo found the marble of his dreams. Craned into position at 40 Greek Street, Gray’s ‘Soho Girl’ travelled a long distance to enjoy her spot in the House.

5. Dumbo New York
Sir David Adjaye ‘130 William Sketch’, 2017

Ink on heavyweight paper

DUMBO House offers some of the most magnificent views of the New York skyline, and so the entire art collection is a dialogue about the relationship between art and architecture. Sir David Adjaye OBE is one of the world’s most respected architects and I asked if he would like to contribute to the works at the House. This drawing was top secret for a time, depicting his idea for his first New York skyscraper, 130 William. The members have the drawing on the wall as they watch his vision being built across the water before their eyes.
A colourful abstract painting.
A black and white print on a red wall.
6. Soho Warehouse
Brian Bress ‘Landscape Friend’, 2018

High-definition, single-channel video (colour), framed high-definition monitor and player

Video art is not an easy fit in busy spaces that change from day to night. But it is a vital component of the contemporary art world and it was important for us to find a way to expand the collection to include it. Brian Bress is a pioneering LA-based artist who works with video as moving painting. His piece in the Soho Warehouse lobby, ‘Landscape Friend’, is a genius example of painting, performance and video. Bress makes and wears his painted costume; we see him within a frame shedding and morphing the painted landscapes. It is a surprising and ever-changing welcome to the House.

7. 40 Greek Street
Walter & Zoniel. Site-specific installation, 2018

Unique photographic frescoes

In 2018, 40 Greek Street reopened after an extensive recreation of the original Soho House. I commissioned Walter & Zoniel to make the first site-specific work in the collection, literally creating their work in what was then a building site in the middle of the night. Using a technique they have pioneered, the artistic duo developed their images directly on the first-floor walls of the House, like a photographic fresco. Their visions were created from a photo shoot of the longest serving Soho House members, so eagle-eyed members can try to spot which body part belongs to which familiar face.
A painting of a man with a moustache on a wall.
8. Soho House Amsterdam
Billy Childish ‘Self-Portrait In Hat’, 2015

Oil and charcoal on linen

A key part of the Amsterdam art collection is an area devoted to self-portraits. The master of Amsterdam, Rembrandt created more self-portraits than any other artist, and so the entire area is an homage to him. Slightly twisting this brief, the British artist Billy Childish presented himself as his hero, another great Dutch master who often painted himself, Vincent Van Gogh. This painting made the shipping deadline with hours to spare and sits above the fireplace, holding court with all the other self-portraits by Dutch and international artists that are in conversation with the art of the past.
Three neon artworks in series.
9. White City House
Chris Levine ‘Matter Of Time’, 2018

Installation with mirrors and LEDs

Chris Levine is a light artist who created this site-specific work in response to an idea set forth by Nick Jones: to make a work that referenced the children’s BBC TV show, Play School. The first light-based work in the art collection, Levine employed recessed mirrors and LED lights to create an infinite play of light and space, paying homage to the iconic windows that featured in the programme. 
A person wearing a large cartoon-like head mask in four photographs with children.
10. Soho House Mumbai 
Princess Pea ‘Sunrise Ceremonies’ (Set 73), 2016

Archival inkjet print

Soho House Mumbai features more than 300 artworks, which is largely comprised of artists working in India. One of the younger stars featured is known as Princess Pea. Bursting onto the art scene in 2009, the Gurgaon-based artist wears an oversized pea head to conceal her identity. Her work deals with ideas around ritual, gender inequality and perfectionism, and battles against notions of ideal beauty. This is one of several works in the House and portrays Princess Pea performing with school children. Princess Pea is the only anonymous artist in our global art collection. And the only one who wears a pea head.
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