A bustling city of London is a true melting pot of diverse cultures and ideas. With an extremely rich history and a long reputation of a vibrant cultural center, the city has attracted many creative souls to its bright lights. Regarded as a contemporary art powerhouse, a plethora of art galleries in London can make anybody’s head spin. With more creative and commercial clout than anywhere outside New York, art enthusiasts are quickly pulled into the whirl, as it seems that the city has everything – great museums, great galleries, and great artists.
We have all heard of iconic institutions and big-name attractions such as Tate Britain, Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Barbican Centre and Whitechapel Gallery, but the city also abounds with numerous exceptional independent art spaces offering something for everyone. With around 1,500 galleries, current London art scene is one of the world’s biggest, with a reach that rivals, and arguably exceeds, hubs like New York and Paris. Spread out across the city and catering for modern art lovers, these venues exhibit works of both London-based and internationally acclaimed artists.
With so many to choose from, it might be difficult to know where to start. Therefore, we have compiled a list of best art galleries in London that present an alternative to the cultural institutions that dominate the routes of a first-time visitor to the UK capital.
The Howard Griffin Gallery, located in the popular street art area of Shoreditch, is one of the best art galleries in London to visit for a taste of urban flavored art. Howard Griffin, which also has an exhibition venue in Los Angeles, caters for those who work outside the traditional boundaries of contemporary art and often with a thread of public art within the works. Howard Griffin Gallery specializes in large-scale debut exhibitions from those who are already renowned in the areas of modern street art. Past exhibitions have included the wonderful Parabola di G by RUN and The Bestiary by Phlegm.
White Cube originally opened its doors in 1993 in Duke Street, consisting of a gallery space which was a perfect white cube. The intimate space showed works by many contemporary artists, including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, but was closed in 2002. White Cube now has gallery spaces in Hong Kong and São Paulo, along with its largest gallery space situated in Bermondsey in the UK capital. The 58,000 square foot gallery was opened in 2011. Within the space at Bermondsey, there are a number of exhibition spaces presenting innovative shows, installations and special projects which have included a retrospective of prints by Chuck Close and a presentation of works by Anselm Kiefer.
If you want somewhere with principles and run by artists, then Pure Evil is definitely one of the best places in the city to visit. Set up by acclaimed graffiti artist Pure Evil, the gallery is a pioneering force in the spectre of modern street art, constantly pushing the boundaries of what a gallery should be by putting on eclectic shows and having creative workshops. They also pay their exhibitors 75% of sales as they are opposed to seeing them used as a commodity and perceive Pure Evil as being a mecca for independent creatives. In our modern society where money talks, it is refreshing to see Pure Evil taking a strong stand on the side of the artistic community.
Hauser & Wirth has been established on the city scene since 2003, specializing in contemporary and modern art. Originally the gallery was founded in Zurich during 1992, before opening its first exhibition space in the UK capital in 2003 on Piccadilly. The Savile Row location was opened in 2010 with Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works’ curated by Germano Celant, confirming its name as a major presence in the city's artistic scene. Hauser & Wirth at Savile Row, London, offers 15,000 square feet of exhibition space and a further 7,000 square feet containing an extensive library and archives.
Beers Contemporary is located in the center of East London, opening its doors in 2010 after relocation from Canada. Beers Contemporary work with emerging and established artists who are exploring exciting trends in contemporary art, putting on a diverse array of exhibitions. The gallery is one of the best venues in the city to offer progressive and thought-provoking exhibitions, looking at various themes and political concepts. The gallery also presents the annual Beers Contemporary Award for Emerging Art, a monetary award given to eight artists working in a variety of disciplines. Director, Kurt Beers, was also author of the book 100 Painters of Tomorrow, which was accompanied by an exhibition.
Rook & Raven is located in central London, offering a carefully selected programme of worldwide and UK-based creatives working across a range of media. The gallery presents acclaimed emerging creatives, who are considered to be at their peak by their peers and who are engaged with their work to a modern setting. Rook & Raven specialise in exhibiting the paintings and sculptures from Africa, Near East, United States, China and Europe for their worldwide client base. Rook & Raven is one of the best gallery spaces in the city at working with various creative industries and outside curators, turning the venue into an innovative centre for visual culture.
Lazarides Rathbone, located in the heart of the Fitzrovia, is definitely one of the best gallery spaces in the city covering creatives outside of the conventional contemporary art scene. Founded in 2006, Lazarides Rathbone has proudly presented a number of exhibitions by influential creatives who have changed the way art is made, including pioneering street artists such as Mode 2, Invader, Todd James, along with painters such as Jonathan yeo and Antony Micallef. The gallery has also presented a number of expansive exhibitions over its spaces on the ground and first floor levels, including work by JR and the retrospective of the Massive Attack visual history by band member and respected artist, 3D.
Blain Southern is a contemporary gallery with exhibition spaces in both Berlin and the UK capital. Blain Southern originally opened in 2010, building up an international program of creatives since then, including Keith Tyson and Richard Long who are both previous winners of The Turner Prize. The gallery has regularly featured in Art Review’s Power 100 list for the most important people in contemporary art, reflecting their unique presence and making them one of the best gallery spaces in the city to visit. The gallery has represented legends such as Lucian Freud, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Wim Wenders, Lynn Chadwick and Rachel Howard.
A leading contemporary art gallery, Pace London represents many of the most significant artists from around the globe and estates of the 20th and 21st centuries. Being a long vital force in the world of arts, Pace Gallery has its origins in Boston where it was founded by Arne Glimcher. Their loft-like space in Soho regularly shows a selection of artists on their books including Claes Oldenburg, Zhang Huan and Robert Ryman. Over the past five decades, the gallery has presented more than 700 exhibitions and has published nearly 400 exhibition catalogues. One of the first gallery spaces to develop the idea of the gallery as a brand, it now has ten locations in New York, London, Beijing, Zouz, Menlo Park and Hong Kong.
Featured images: Pace London, via artisnotdead.blogspot.com; Pace London Installation View, via en.cafa.com.cn
Located in vibrant Soho, The Photographer’s Gallery is comprised of three floors of gallery spaces, a popular bookshop, café and an education space. Founded in 1971, it was the first independent photography gallery in Britain. Today the largest public photography gallery in the city and the primary venue for photographers looking to establish themselves in the UK, it offers a selection of worldwide and British artists including Robert Capa, Taryn Simon, Corinne Day and Martin Parr. Their dedicated Print Sale Gallery holds works from over 35 internationally acclaimed photographers, and you can also find many rare or unusual photography publications in their shop.
Featured images: Photographer's Gallery, via londonunveiled.com; Photographer's Gallery Installation View, via peterfraiser.net
Widely regarded as the most important dealer in the world of arts, Larry Gagosian has developed a global network of sixteen exhibition spaces worldwide, with two based in the UK capital. The larger of two venues is Gagosian Britannia Street in Kings Cross, while the smaller one is at Davies Street in Mayfair. Gagosian’s vibrant program features the work of leading artists from around the globe such as Georg Baselitz, Ellen Gallagher, Andreas Gursky, Takashi Murakami, Anselm Kiefer, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Taryn Simon, Rachel Whiteread, and many others. Additionally, the gallery organizes many historical exhibitions on the work of legends such as Francis Bacon, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Lucio Fontana, Helen Frankenthaler, Alberto Giacometti, Roy Lichtenstein, and others.
Featured images: Gagosian Gallery, via tatehindle.ci.uk; Gagosian Gallery Installation View, via dezeen.com
Founded in 1967 by Nicholas Logsdail and Fiona Hildyard, Lisson Gallery is one of the most influential and longest-running worldwide contemporary art gallery spaces in the globe. As a pioneering London gallery that championed the careers of many influential artists, it was one of the first gallery venues to be associated with Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Their approach to exhibitions is more academic than commercial and they often explore present-day cultural values. The gallery shows a plethora of artists from around the globe such as Marina Abramović, Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaodong, Tatsuo Miyajima and Santiago Sierra, but it also represents many younger ones of this stature, including Allora & Calzadilla, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, and Ryan Gander.
Featured images: Lisson Gallery, via globalartmagazine.com; Lisson Gallery Installation View, via lissongallery.com
Founded in 1946, ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) promotes and encourages an understanding of radical art and culture. A radical innovator, ICA organizes a vibrant program of exhibitions, films, talks and events stimulating a debate and exploring recent impulses in artistic production. Over the years, the gallery exhibited influential artists such as Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi and provided a platform for Robert Mapplethorpe and Damien Hirst. Apart from organizing exhibitions and working with artists, ICA runs an art house cinema, a writers-in-residency program and is known for their pursuit for new music. Bands such as The Clash, The Stone Roses, Blondie and Franz Ferdinand got their big breaks here. With its critically-acclaimed exhibition and film program, it continues to engage new generations of creatives and audiences alike.
Featured image: ICA London, via artfund.org; ICA Installation View, via newcontemporaries.org.uk
Founded in 1968 by Queen Elisabeth, Hayward Gallery has a long tradition of presenting work by the world’s most adventurous and innovative artists. It is situated in a remarkable example of sixties brutalist architecture and it is one of the few remaining buildings in this style. As one facet of the city’s Southbank Centre, it partakes in the organization’s passion for making the arts available to all. Focused on modern and contemporary art, it has exhibited some of the most intriguing and innovative creatives such as of Martin Creed, David Shrigley, Tracey Emin and Jeremy Deller. The gallery is currently closed due to refurbishments and it will be reopened in 2017.
Featured images: Hayward Gallery, via artfund.org; Hayward Gallery Installation View, via clairemead.wordpress.com
Founded in 1979, the October Gallery exhibits contemporary artworks from creatives in over 80 countries. Throughout various exhibits, the gallery promotes the Transvangarde, a self-coined movement meaning the shaping of things to come and the capacity of art to transcend boundaries. Additionally, the gallery remains a cultural hub for poets, writers, intellectuals, and artists, and hosts talks, performances, and seminars. October Gallery has been instrumental in bringing to the worldwide attention to some of the world’s leading creatives, including El Anatsui, Rachid Koraïchi, Romuald Hazoumè, Nnenna Okore, Laila Shawa and Kenji Yoshida. The rich diversity of works presented continues to be an inspiration to collectors and enthusiasts.
Featured images: October Gallery, via hiyashi.rodpress.com; October Gallery Installation View, via artdubai.ae
A world class venue for contemporary art founded in 1965, the Camden Arts Centre continues to pursue a cutting-edge agenda of art excellence. Originally founded to provide art classes for the local community, it is now a place for world-class contemporary art exhibitions and education. In addition to light and airy gallery spaces, the building comprises of studios, a restaurant, and a bookshop. They feature emerging artists, international artists showing in the UK capital for the first time, significant historic figures who have inspired contemporary practice, and artist selected group shows relevant to current debate. Always intelligently curated, their exhibitions include a retrospective of the Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, and critically lauded artist curated shows by Richard Wentworth and Tacita Dean.
Featured images: Camden Arts Centre, via lastminute.com; Camden Arts Centre Installation View, via jackbellgallery.com
Founded in 1985, Victoria Miro Gallery quickly earned acclaim for showing the work of established and emerging artists from the USA, Europe, and Asia, as well for nurturing the careers of young artists from the UK. Located in a former furniture factory situated on a desolate road between Hoxton and Islington, the gallery is a wonderful sanctuary. With its own beautiful garden, the gallery has two floors of well-lit gallery space. It represents legends such as William Eggleston, Doug Aitken and Grayson Perry, and also helps support emerging artists. In 2006, the gallery expanded further by opening Victoria Miro 14, a venue open to public for special exhibitions and projects.
Featured images: Victoria Miro Gallery, via artaddict.net; Victoria Miro Gallery Installation View, via reesandco.com
Established in 1994, Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) is an exceptional venue organizing thought-provoking exhibitions that reflect the diverse nature of British culture. Additionally, it creates publications, digital initiatives, and education and research projects. With a rigorous theoretical approach to exhibition making, the gallery explores the politics of race and global identities through visual arts. It supports diverse artists and their practices, creates platforms for debate at the intersection of society and politics, and encourages access to and awareness of transnational artistic practices and histories. It has established a reputation for innovative solo and group exhibitions for a broad cross-section of creatives.
Featured images: Iniva Gallery, via bbc.co.uk; Iniva Gallery Installation View, via tech.plym.ac.uk
Editors’ Tip: The Art Lovers' Guide: London: The Finest Art in London by museum, artist, or period by Sam Phillips
This is publication is the best guidebook for those who want to experience the finest art in the city. Richly illustrated, this book focuses on the art, rather than taking the old fashioned approach of listing the city's various museums and then describing highlights. It is arranged chronologically, and each section is devoted to a certain period, highlighting where the best works are to be found in this vibrant capital. It allows readers to you to choose one period, style or individual artist and trace a tour through the city finding all the relevant masterpieces - museum by museum, gallery by gallery. The book is organized into 25 chapters grouped into three sections – Early Art, the Western Tradition and Modern Art. It also provides maps, indices of museums and artists, and other helpful suggestions for navigating the city.
Edited by Elena Martinique.