Why Soho Warehouse is a major art destination in Downtown LA
With over 100 artworks spanning seven floors of the House, our collection is a fascinating snapshot of the city’s art scene
Thursday 4 May 2023 By Anastasiia Fedorova
First opened in 2019, Soho Warehouse – set in a seven-storey industrial building that dates back to the Art Deco era and has subsequently served as a storage facility, artist’s loft and a recording studio – is a living embodiment of the complex history and creative spirit of Downtown LA. Its sizeable art collection, curated by the Soho House Global Director of Art, Kate Bryan, reflects this complex journey while also capturing a special moment within the city’s contemporary art scene, which is on the cusp of becoming a global art destination, thanks to an influx of galleries and art events, such as Frieze Los Angeles.
The collection consists of over 100 pieces and includes five site-specific installations: an entrance mural by Shepard Fairey (founder of OBEY Clothing and creator of the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster); a rooftop mural by Blanda; stairwell wallpaper installation by Genevieve Gaignard; a large-scale painting by Paul Davies; and a sculptural installation by Sadie Barnette. It also features a work by Brian Bress, which was one of the first pieces of video art in the Soho House collection. The wide range of media ensures the collection offers an immersive art experience, and one that is strongly linked to its surrounding area.
‘With Soho Warehouse, I think we have the highest number of artists within walking distance from the House,’ says Bryan. ‘It creates a distinct feeling that the House is populated by people who think outside the box, people who are adventurous, people who are risk-takers. This is what I wanted to reflect in the art.’
Here, she talks us through the highlights of the art collection.
A pivotal moment for the Los Angeles scene
‘When we opened Soho Warehouse in 2019, Los Angeles had been the talk of the art world for a few years. A lot of artists were moving here from other cities in the US and getting studios, but it hadn’t felt like LA had an art infrastructure to match elsewhere. Then all of a sudden, Hauser & Wirth opened in Downtown LA, followed by other established galleries.
‘It’s been known for a long time that LA is a really creative city, but it’s always been dominated by the vision of Hollywood. The collection I built for Soho Warehouse was to reflect LA as a new dominant force in the art world. It was a thrilling time, and obviously it’s come to manifest LA now as a global art destination.’
Celebrating text-based art
‘When I was curating the collection, I focused on the themes that made sense for LA. The name Ed Ruscha kept coming up as an art pioneer in the city, the great Californian giant. A lot of the works that he’s very famous for are text-based, so I created a whole separate text-based collection featuring Christopher Wool, Dread Scott, Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell, Corita Kent, Cynthia Daignault, David Horvitz – who also created works for the bedrooms for us. It also features Erica Baum, Fiona Banner – one of the ultimate text-based artists – Glenn Ligon, Hank Willis Thomas and Helen Cammock.’
Reimagining the body
‘I have been very interested in how Hollywood has sold us the vision of the perfect body for so long, and we are all victims to this aspiration. I wanted to create a collection that was the antidote to that – an unidealised body collection.
‘When you come into the House, you see a wall with very unusual interpretations of the body as you go down to the gym (the placement was particularly important to me). The artists featured include Christina Quarles, David Salle, Juliana Huxtable, Linder Sterling, Marty Schnapf, Claire Tabouret and Chris Lux.’
Playing with the building’s history
‘A very special commission is a massive street art piece by Shepard Fairey, who is easily the most well-regarded American street artist and an activist. The building is an old warehouse, which had lain dormant for a while and become full of graffiti. We actually left some of the graffiti inside the building and we hung artwork over the top of it – it felt like an interesting interplay between organic art that happens illegally and the sanctioned art that we acquired.
‘We commissioned another mural on the roof by Blanda, which linked back to the body theme. And then in the bar on the rooftop there is a site-specific painting, which is the largest single painting in the collection – 14-feet long – by Paul Davies. He is an Australian artist living locally who gave us an incredible view of LA through the lens of Modernist architecture, the swimming pool and the palm trees and mountains. It’s a very evocative work.’
LA’s formidable scale
‘What I love about the city’s art scene is the fact that there’s heritage. There have been artists making exceptional work in LA since the middle of the last century, but it feels like now the world's attention is finally on it. And it’s about scale: the city can offer scale and opportunity that one like New York struggles to, purely because of infrastructure. When you go in and see an artist’s studio – the size of it, the number of works they can have in the studio in one time – or the scale of institutions like The Broad or LACMA, that almost dizzying scale makes you feel like anything's possible.’
Discover the Soho Warehouse Art Collection