Recently a friend of mine lamented, “. . . for the first time in 18 years I’m suffering from a bad case of “island fever”. I so wish I still lived in London!”
I know how she feels. I am a Londoner too . . . sometimes.
For quite a long time I’ve been surviving extremes of culture and weather by popping London into my travelling merry-go-round circuit. In the past, my choices were most often populated with Canadian horror stories involving ice storms, impassable roads and abandoned winter streets. Conversely, when hanging out in the South Pacific, I was occasionally blinded by bikini-clad wahines walking down crowded Kalakaua Avenue in Oahu. With surfboards tucked underarm, they would stun the sunburnt tourists milling around by complaining about the unbearable 78-degree chill.
Now I cater more often to my art obsession, by buying airline tickets, cleaning my camera and fretting about what type of seasonal clothing to wear in the Big Smoke. London is a city so over-amped with endless choices, that you can just pick your passion, the right shoes – and guaranteed, you will find it, and even better, it most likely will be free.
Even the first-time ride into town from Heathrow is a crack-up. The slight shock of expensive tube fares is quickly overshot with the pubescent glee of hearing each tube stop announced in a totally queen-like voice with the pronounced emphasis on the word “cock” of the “Cockfosters” terminus! After your sniggering dies down, you realize that you’ve been totally outed by the other passengers as a hick-from-away, but after 30 stops you, too, become inured to it.
But now you’re here, in a vivacious, expensive city and so there’s no time to waste. This is my super-quick, and an extremely cursory list of venues with samples of their constantly changing shows for the “I love London” art crowd.
My pilgrimages to galleries often start with the headliners. I make sure to visit the two “White Cube” Galleries and both of the “Gagosians”, the “Saatchi”, and the “Phillips” (if they’re hosting one of their high profile auctions).
The Tate Modern demands a day visit that can be broken up with a stroll along the crowded Thames. The National Portrait Gallery comes up with some pretty lively and unexpected exhibitions, and while you’re there, don’t miss a trip up to the truly beautiful rooftop restaurant – it’s an unparalleled cityscape photo-op. The smaller nearby and notable stops include the Halcyon Gallery with Bob Dylan’s “The Beaten Path” exhibition, the Hauser & Wirth, and the Maddox Gallery. They are all worth the trot.
Located further afield in London’s expansive Kensington Gardens are the slightly harder-to-find Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The latter was designed by the amazing Zaha Hadid and opened in 2013.
Sort of nearby you will also find both Lisson Galleries that have an admirable 50-year history of promoting contemporary art. The other heavy-hitters include the two Flowers galleries, the almost unpronounceable “Zabludowicz” Collection on Prince of Wales Road in Belsize Park that specializes in new and emerging ‘visualists’, and the au jour Victoria Miro in Islington where Chris Ofili, the Chapman Brothers and Grayson Perry’s work have been seen, it is also strategically located just up the street from the charming “Narrowboat” waterside pub.
After these headliners, check out the churning street art scene. The main walls are to be found in Hackney Wick, Bethnal Green, the Shoreditch area, Brick Lane (which includes the quirky and newly refurbished “Nomadic Community Garden”) and the Leake Tunnel near Waterloo station. Camden retains a few walls but is quickly disappearing beneath the crush of urban development.
There is also a whole list of galleries that cater to the big-name muralists, as well as the transitioning street-to-gallery artists. The Pure Evil Gallery, Stolen Spaces, Well Hung Gallery, Jealous, and the Howard Griffin Gallery are just a tiny sampling of what is actually available.
FYI – there are pop-ups too!
From monumental works, to layered collages, stencilling, quick tagging, paste-ups, the walls of this city effortlessly pile on visual experiences, and it easily
outpaces any attempt to see everything. You begin to feel like the gasping hare in this London tortoise relationship. There is just so much going on that grabbing someone’s eyes via print is still an extremely effective way for artists and galleries to publicize art events, so pick up all of the cultural brochures and cards that you come across and at the end of your travels, and if they are not too dog-eared, frame them. It will be wonderful to look at your framed Alice Neel advert that is boasting a show that hasn’t yet closed in far away London.