Kate Bryan is global head of Collections at Soho House and an arts presenter, curator and tour guide. We caught up with her last week to find out more about her new book The Art of Love published by White Lion on June 6th and available online at Amazon.
The book beautifully illustrated by Turkish designer Asli Yazan profiles 34 artist couples across the past 150 years revealing tales of massive bust-ups, incurable romantics and some of the most amazing hook-ups of the art world including Camille Claudel & August Rodin, Barbara Hepworth & Ben Nicholson, Georgia O’Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz, Gilbert & George, Niki de Saint Phalle & Jean Tinguely, Marina Abramovic & Ulay.
Kate, what is your role at Soho House, and what does it involve?
I am the Head of Collections for globally for Soho House and Co. I am the custodian of the art collection which now numbers over 5000 artworks on permanent display across 8 countries, making it pretty unique! I also look after the art at The Ned which is part of the extended Soho House Family.
Tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to work in art?
I have always been an art addict. I made art almost every day until I studied art history and realised I was better at talking about it! I come from a non-privileged background, which is sadly still unusual in the art world which has always suffered from elitism. I make it my mission to help as many people as possible come to art, whether to enjoy it to enrich their lives or to make art or work within the industry.
Your new book The Art of Love will be released in June 6, take us through the process of bringing your book to fruition.
The book was a labour of love as I wrote it around my full time job at Soho House and various filming commitments last year. I wanted to dedicate time to stories that would give those familiar with art something new to think about, and also be appealing to a wider non-art audience. We all love a good love story, whether it be destructive or romantic. It’s universal and in the case of the artists I selected, their relationships are a really valuable tool in further knowing their art.
What was the most memorable love story for you?
Probably Yayoi Kusuma and Joseph Cornell. I planned to write about another living couple who politely backed out at the eleventh hour. They are modest and just didn’t feel they could talk about their marriage in any terms at all, so it would have been pretty boring had I continued without the interview as almost nothing is on record about them. So, I was panicking and to calm myself reread Yayoi Kusuma’s Autobiography one night (I read art books constantly, you would think I would chose something else after a day at work!) and in the book she talks about this amazing relationship she had with Cornell which I completely forgot about. We think of them both as reclusive and yet here was this story of two people deeply connected in a very cool period in New York, but both repressed sexually. So it’s a tale of unconsummated love and was a magical last minute addition. (I completed it the week of the deadline!)
Do you think being in a relationship with another artist helps or hinders creativity?
Well, you see both sides of the coin in the book. For Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, their love affair was a catalyst for them each becoming a great artist, it was vital. But success tore them apart. Whereas Nancy Spero and Leon Golub managed to maintain a genuinely healthy respect for each other as both artists and within their marriage so theirs is a story of success. Lots of artists are suffocated and overshadowed by a more famous partner, there is a phenomenon I call the Little Wife Syndrome which affected the way that artists like Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner were considered. Thankfully a lot is being done to redress the balance finally.
The program at Soho House is global, how do you select artists for the collection?
We work with both museum level artists and support emerging talent. We endeavour to make sure there is a healthy representation of artists from the city the House is opening in. We also create curatorial themes which makes the collection more interesting for members to navigate, for instance at Downtown LA we have a body of work all about text based art, another on unidealized bodies (as a reaction to Hollywood selling us ideal forms for so long) and a wall that celebrates historic LA art world figures like David Hockney, John Baldassari, Corita Kent and Judy Chicago.
You champion women artists most notably at The Ned, the former HQ of Midlands Bank where you inverted the FTSE 100 ratio of 93 male CEOs to just 7 women by selecting 93 works by female artists and 7 men. Will you be working on another women focused project?
Arguably all my projects are women focussed as I am always conscious of making sure we have a gender balance! Last year I curated Not 30% for The Other Art Fair in London which was part protest and part exhibition and I was so pleased to work with so many brilliant artists like Sarah Maple. I have some very big things developing for 2020 too.
You are also a TV presenter for Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year and Landscape Artist of the Year. What has been your favourite moment as on the series?
I love making these programmes. They are testament to the fact that people have a huge appetite for art. People stop me on the tube to disagree with who won the week before and that’s the best feeling. We are all absolutely entitled to our opinions about art. I feel sad when people say “I don’t know anything about art, but I like so and so” I just don’t think you would ever say “I don’t know anything about music but I love Adele”. We all made art as children, all of us! And I think the programme is so successful as it brings people back to art, mostly as viewers but there are a lot of stories of people who watch the show and take up painting again, that’s the best bit for me.
Where can one buy The Art of Love?
In museum giftshops which is extremely exciting for me, amazon, Waterstones – hopefully lots of easy to reach places. It’s fully illustrated by Asli Yazan and it’s a pretty good-looking gift!
If you could have a work by any artist in the book who would it be?
Great and horribly hard question. I think my answer would change everyday but for today I will say Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Coast of 1968-9. Impossibility aside, owning a temporary installation of over one million square feet of fabric wrapped around an Australian coastline is punchy and I like it.
Pre-order the book and email receipt of pre-order to enter the competition to win a nameplate and bonus chapter. Send to email@example.com
Interview by Catherine Loewe