London’s most notorious “village” has a new contender on the arts club scene. Part gallery, part members’ lounge, Lights of Soho is pitching itself as a cultural hub where Soho’s after-dark mix of bohemian-minded artists and creative industry execs can commune. In addition to showing art, it will serve a menu by Michelin-starred chef Mark Hix and will host fashion, film and music events. Most excitingly for collectors, its programme will emphasise light art in its many forms. The venue’s first exhibition, City Lights, opens on Thursday May 28 and runs until Sunday July 5, showing a range of works from established names such as Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk and Chris Bracey, alongside emerging artists including Anna Lomax and Alex Randall.
Neon takes centre stage here as light art’s most iconic form. The art stars showing in City Lights have made neon a desirable acquisition for buyers wanting to inflect a collection with the swagger that defined the art world around the millennium. “Lights of Soho is doing something exceptional”, says Emin. “People take neon for granted, but it’s a dying craft.” Her much-loved neon I Promise To Love You (first picture) is being exhibited as the headline artwork in the exhibition, although it won’t be for sale. Available to buy, among others, are Chris Levine’s reverent lightbox portrait of Kate Moss, Kate’s Light (£42,000), Bracey’s composite sign The Power & The Glory (£66,000, second picture) and Lomax’s neon Fry Up (£3,000, third picture), a cute line-up of bacon, eggs, sausage and beans.
Following the recent closure of a number of Soho’s best-loved clubs and restaurants, new hotspots are keen to capitalise on the stories of loose living and high jinx that are the neighbourhood’s lifeblood. “With Soho changing, it’s a privilege to bring together so many fantastic artists to ensure the area’s creative legacy is upheld,” says the gallery’s curator Hamish Jenkinson, formerly artistic director of the Old Vic Tunnels. “If we can capture a little of the magic the old Colony Room created, we will have done a great thing.”
While the various local members’ clubs each have their own appeal, it’s debatable whether any has touched the mythical kudos of The Colony Room, which opened in 1948 with Francis Bacon as a founding member, and then became infamous for its all-nighters with Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas et al, until its closure in 2008. Lights of Soho has a head start on the infamy, having once been a brothel and then a porn shop, and its glamorous redesign epitomises the new Soho – a place where you can buy world-renowned art from a club table in a former bordello…