London offers one of the most vibrant and diverse art scenes in the world. With more than 1,500 galleries, leading auction houses, museums, art fairs, and exhibitions London’s current art scene is one of the world’s biggest and a pole of attraction for artists and art lovers from all over the world. In the central Mayfair district, one can visit international mega-galleries, like David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth and Gagosian Gallery. Art venues in London’s East End and an emerging art scene south of Thames provide art lovers of all tastes with more than they manage to visit over their staying in the metropolis. Let’s dive into London’s rich art scene and discover 20 of the city’s most important galleries.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square, Central London that houses paintings from the 13th to 20th century. The building was designed by William Wilkins between 1832 and 1838. In 1991 Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown designed the Sainsbury Wing, an extension to the west. This is a great example of Postmodernist architecture in Britain. The original building has undergone expansion throughout the years and only the facade to Trafalgar Square remains unchanged.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dulwich Picture Gallery opened in 1817 in Southwark, southeast London. It is the first purpose-built and London’s oldest art gallery. Nowadays besides the permanent collection of Old Master paintings, the gallery offers a program of temporary exhibitions, as well as public events that engage the community.
Between 1897 and 1932 Tate Britain was known as the National Gallery of British Art and from 1932 to 2000 as the Tate Gallery. The art gallery is located on Millbank in the City of Westminster in London. It is part of the Tate network of galleries in England, along with Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives.
Tate Modern houses modern and contemporary art. The former Bankside Power Station was selected as the new gallery site in 1994. The original building, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was constructed in two phases between 1947 and 1963. Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron were commissioned to convert the building into a gallery, making use of the power station’s iconic oil tanks. In 2016 the office completed an expansion that increased the gallery space and provided enhanced visitor facilities. The Turbine Hall installation is the gallery’s highlight.
The Saatchi Gallery showcases contemporary art. Charles Saatchi opened it in 1985 to exhibit his collection to the public. After having occupied different premises in North London, then the South Bank by the River Thames, the gallery is now located in Chelsea.
Whitechapel Gallery is an art gallery in Whitechapel on the northside of Whitechapel High Street. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend it opened its doors in 1901 as the first public gallery in London.
The British Museum
The British Museum, located in the Bloomsbury area is the first public institution national museum in the world. dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection presents the evolution of global human culture throughout history. It was founded in 1753 and inaugurated in 1759.
South London Gallery
The South London Gallery, also known as SLG, was founded in 1891 as a public gallery of contemporary art in Camberwell, London. In 2010 6a Architects designed the SLG expansion to provide additional gallery spaces, a cafe, an educational space, and residences.
The Serpentine Gallery was established in 1970. Together with the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, is a leading gallery for emerging and established artists from around the world. It is located in Kensington Gardens. Its annual summer Pavilion has become an architectural highlight where international practitioners can experiment with unexpected materials and forms.
Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art
Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, known as Goldsmiths CCA, is located in New Cross on the Campus of Goldsmiths University. It is designed for students, artists, and the wider public, offering exhibitions, diverse events, and educational activities. Originally the building was the boiler house and public laundry of Laurie Grove Baths, a Grade II-listed building. Assemble renovated the building which opened its doors in 2018.
Victoria and Albert Museum
According to the official homepage Henry Cole, the V&A’s first Director, declared that the Museum should be a “schoolroom for everyone”. Its mission was to improve the standards of British industry by educating designers, manufacturers and consumers in art and science. Acquiring and displaying the best examples of art and design contributed to this mission, but the ‘schoolroom’ itself was also intended to demonstrate exemplary design and decoration. In 2017 V&A got a new extension and entrance designed by British practice AL_A.
White Cube is a gallery in Bermondsey, South London owned by art dealer Jay Jopling. The building was designed by CMK architect’s Marianne Mueller and Olaf Kneer Jay Jopling’s newWhite Cube arises in Bermondsey. Inaugurated in October 2011 for the Frieze Art Fair the gallery is characterized by its striking architectural style.
Newport Street Gallery
The Newport Street Gallery presents works from the personal collection of Damien Hirst. Designed by St. John Caruso, the building is located on Newport Street Vauxhall. “This highly accomplished and expertly detailed art gallery is a bold and confident contribution to the best of UK architecture. Caruso St John’s approach to conservation is irreverent yet sensitive and achieves a clever solution that expresses a poetic juxtaposition of old and new,” said the jury in their citation.
The Photographer’s Gallery
The Photographers’ Gallery was founded in London by Sue Davies opening on 14 January 1971, as the first public gallery in the United Kingdom devoted solely to photography in a converted Tea Bar in London’s Covent Garden. In 1980 the gallery extended to a neighboring building.
The Barbican was designed by Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon as an initiative to revitalize an area devastated by bombing during the Second World War. It is a great example of Brutalist architecture in Britain.
The gallery was first founded in New York in 1994 by Per Skarstedt for historical exhibitions by Contemporary international artists. Skarstedt opened the gallery in London in 2012 and since then has been presenting exhibitions and publications.
Royal Academy of Arts
The Royal Academy of Arts is the first art institution in England. It was established in 1768 and since 1868 it has been based in Burlington House on Piccadilly. In 1998 it expanded to the Burlington Gardens building. In 2008 David Chipperfield Architects successfully connected the main building with the 19th-century Burlington Gardens building that is located behind it.
The Hayward Gallery is located in the Southbank Centre in central London and belongs to the group of arts venues on the South Bank of the River Thames. The building is another example of brutalist architecture.
Institute of contemporary arts
Stefan Kalmár, the Director of the ICA London states: The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London has been the model for most ICAs that exist in the world today. Since its founding in 1946, the ICA contextualises contemporary culture within the socio-political conditions of the times. The ICA was created as an institute (not a museum), for the contemporary (not just modern) and for all the arts (not just art).
Gagosian Galleries is an international gallery group with three galleries in London: The third and largest is located in Mayfair. It was designed by Caruso St. John Architects and opened its doors to the public in 2015.