Thomas Connors 2014-07-26 06:04:34
ART HOUSE SOHO HOUSE OPENS ITS DOORS IN CHICAGO REVEALING A DAZZLING COLLECTION OF LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL ART. "A room hung with pictures is a room hung with thoughts." So said the great 18th century English portrait painter, Joshua Reynolds. And at Soho House, the muchanticipated Brit import opening in the West Loop this month—there are ideas aplenty bouncing off the walls. A private club with a public face (including the restaurants Pizza East and Chicken Shop), this high-concept hospitality venture sports a decor that merges traces of well-worn gentility with hard-edged Industrial chic. And art is central to the vibe. The Soho House brand was launched in 1995, when restaurateur Nick Jones spruced up a warren of rooms above his London eatery as a meeting place for folks who weren't Boodle's material—and didn't need a dance floor to have a good time. Catering to movers and shakers in film, advertising and media, Soho House was envisioned as a laid-back yet oh-so-civil retreat, where a screenwriter might settle in with her laptop or a creative director could brainstorm with his top talent. The idea clicked, leading to multiple outposts in England, as well as satellites in Berlin, Toronto, New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Situated in the old Chicago Belting Factory facility at 113- 125 N. Green St., Soho House Chicago is the company's largest property yet, with amenities that include a 40-seat screening room; a 15,000-square-foot gym, complete with boxing ring; and a rooftop pool. Like any such establishment worth its salt, Soho House stresses service, with touches like One While Changing, the bar caddy who pops by guest rooms to pour a drink as one preps for the evening. Now, about those pictures. With more than 200 works, the local collection includes stars from near (Theaster Gates) and far (Damien Hirst), and just a bloody good representation of Chicago-based practitioners, with emerging artists (Aron Gent, Heidi Norton) and veteran talents (Dawoud Bey, Audrey Niffenegger) sharing wall space. "I think some of the younger artists are overjoyed to be hanging alongside artists they wouldn't normally be," says Francesca Gavin, curator of the entire Soho House Group. "And I think the more established artists like being placed in context with younger artists who really represent the city now." Maintaining a distinctive art program has been key to the Soho House brand from the start. "The site of the first Soho House was originally a club in the 1920s," Gavin says. "Graham Greene, Noel Coward and Francis Bacon used to go there. And Soho itself was the seat Of British bohemia throughout the 20th century. So with our art collections, the aim is to respect that heritage and try to continue it in some way." While Gavin says her selections are meant to "capture a moment in time"— especially the energy of the art scene in each city where Soho House operates— she sets some parameters, looking for or commissioning work in a limited color palette. "It's all black, white, sepia and gray," she notes. "Occasionally we'll get elements of red or blue highlights. And I'm looking for a certain smallness in terms of scale." As for content or imagery, Gavin favors work that references eating, drinking, sleeping and sex—all a part of the Soho House experience. "I'll suggest artists play off elements of hedonism," she explains, "but I leave things as open as possible." Installed salon style—with drawings, paintings and photographs Massed tightly in seemingly random constellations—the Soho House panoply is as much about setting a mood as it is a determination to offer members and guests good art. Some artists may fret that their work will fade into the background, as folks savor a cocktail or go deep in conversation, but not Michelle Grabner, who has created a large format drawing in silver for the club. "The fact that my work will hang in this very social environment isn't so very different from having a private collector acquire a piece and take it home," suggests the School of the Art Institute prof, who co-curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial. "Some artists might be concerned about showing in this context, where people probably don't spend much time thinking through the individual works. But for me, as a process-driven artist, the value of the work is in its making, not where it ends up." Whether people don their art criticism caps as they gaze about the premises or not, the truth is, the sheer abundance of dynamic, contemporary images on hand invests Soho House with a manifest sense of timeliness, an edgy, visual punch that energizes the place like nobody's business. "More than anything," Gavin says, "the art reflects the ethos of the club, as a very creative space attracting very creative people." House Rules Opening Day Located in the historic Chicago Belting Factory, built in 1907, Soho House Chicago is the group’s fifth location in North America. By the Book With six floors and 40 guest rooms, the property is the largest in the international chain, founded in London in 1995. Rooms will become available beginning Sept. 1. “Small” bedrooms start at $240. Take a Bite In addition to food and drink service in The Allis lounge, Soho House Chicago will have Pizza East and Chicken Shop, open to the public. Getting In Accommodations are available only to members. Local house membership, $2,000, plus $300 registration. More information at sohohousechicago.com.
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