A Dilettante’s Guide to Contemporary Art Galleries in London

See out modern masterpieces in the most stylish settings   |   June 2017

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Nice try, New York. Sorry, Paris. If you’re seeking a city with a truly artistic pedigree, it’s hard to rival culture-rich London

South London Gallery © White Cube Gallery

From its world-famous museums to the large communities of artists for whom the capital is both home and source of inspiration, London is an ever-flowing font of creativity.

But it’s in the many contemporary art galleries in London where the city’s artistic pulse is perhaps closest to the surface. Across London, there are many clusters of arty streets and neighbourhoods that each host their own clutch of galleries: from the quiet sophistication and utter exclusivity of Mayfair to the bright young things of the East End.

Cork Street in manicured Mayfair has long been a destination for art lovers with well-lined wallets thanks to its collection of high-end galleries. Among them, Waddington Custot Galleries (11 Cork Street, W1S 3LT), a Cork Street staple since 1966, represents a number of high-profile modern artists ranging from Bill Woodrow to Jean Dubuffet. Another mainstay is Browse and Darby (19 Cork Street, W1S 3LP), which showcases contemporary English painting alongside 18th and 19th century European pieces: you’ll find work from the likes of Bonnard, Picasso, and Henry Moore here, and some great window shopping opportunities, for those not feeling quite so flush.

Beyond Cork Street, the West End is home to some seriously high-profile contemporary art galleries in London. Swiss import Hauser & Wirth (23 Savile Row, W1S 2ET), with its glittering stable of modern and contemporary artists the likes of Louise Bourgeois and Roni Horn, opened in 2003. Gagosian Gallery, one of the world’s best-known contemporary galleries, operates two London spaces (one at 17-19 Davies Street, W1K 3DE, and one at 6-24 Britannia Street, WC1X 9JD) and shows works from artists such as Alexander Calder and Jeff Koons as well as Ed Ruscha and Diane Arbus. Pace Gallery and Blain|Southern are two more big name neighbourhood highlights, while Victoria Miro, who opened her first venue on Cork Street, launched a new Mayfair space late last year.

But it’d be foolhardy to consign your wanderings strictly to the West End – East End, the Berlin of London, is all about the scruffy, young upstarts. The environs around Vyner Street in Bethnal Green have long been a hotspot for contemporary art galleries in London, with spaces like the artist-run Vyner Street Gallery, Wilkinson Gallery, and art lab Limewharf among those repping for all things East.

South London Gallery © South London Gallery
Viewer © Keith Ellwood/Flickr

And next, head to what property agents are labelling “the next East London”: South London, which is emerging as the city’s newest creative hub. One of the leaders of the South London art scene is White Cube in Bermondsey (144-152 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ), which occupies a colossal building that houses three exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and a bookshop. Stop by to find works from YBA favourites (or not, depending on your appetite for controversy) Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, long-time London-based artistic partners Gilbert & George, and other blockbuster contemporary creatives like the Chapman Brothers.

Up-and-coming Peckham is also establishing itself as something of a South London art centre, with Hannah Barry Gallery (4 Holly Grove, SE15 5DF) at the forefront. Founded when Barry was in her early twenties, the gallery celebrates the work of London’s hip young artists, and hosts the annual Bold Tendencies show in a nearby car park (naturally). South London Gallery (65-67 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH), which hosts contemporary exhibitions alongside performances and other events, is one more worthy nearby art address.

Or, stick closer to home and take your own tour of some of the awe-inspiring artwork on display throughout Corinthia Hotel London. Some other-worldly, some thought provoking, some sculptural but all equally stunning; each piece reflects the beauty and vibrancy of not only the hotel itself, but the city in which it is housed. From the quirky, cheeky oil paintings of Alan MacDonald, Honky Tonk Woman III can be spotted in the Northall Private Dining Room, to Nick Jeffrey’s stunning, gold-encased butterflies burgeoning for freedom in his Pangea Series I-VIII, Corinthia London is a veritable art gallery in its own right. On your way for an indulgent treatment at ESPA Life at Corinthia, pause to examine the serene sculptures of Mari Ruth Oda or see the nearby London landmarks from a different view point with Marcus James’ delicately busy etchings.

With so much art on offer across the city it would be a shame to miss out. Pick your neighbourhood, then, and prepare to see some of London’s most innovative contemporary art.


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