Art Galleries: The Big Wigs and Those New on the Scene

“So, what’s the plan for today?”

“How about an art gallery…”

Every friendship group has that one mate who’s go-to answer to a day out is a visit to an art gallery. Disclaimer: I am that friend. But art galleries are a bore, right? WRONG. Gone are the days where the TA hands you an audio guide and instructs you to navigate the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery for your 15th school trip. London offers art of all shapes, sizes, forms, styles, design and texture, so I’m pretty confident in saying that there is something for everyone. And I do mean EVERYONE. Art is epic; it makes you feel things, it sparks conversation, it makes you question, and it inspires. And a lot of the time, although not all of the time, it’s free. The term ‘art’ is a pretty loose one; it’s impossible to label it as just one thing or another – almost anything can be perceived as art if you want it to be, just ask Tracey Emin. So, with that in mind, here are some of my personal favourite art houses.

If you’re talking art, you’re talking the Tates. They’re inescapable and rightfully so. The Tate Modern favours international contemporary art, which is housed in four of the converted power station’s ten levels. From Picasso to Matisse, from Dalí to Lupas, the Tate Modern offers everything from surrealist, abstract canvas pieces to large-scale 3D displays. You’ll be immersed in a vast array of visual compositions: photographs, light exhibitions, statues… the list goes on. My favourite free displays are on the fourth floor, across the bridge and into the Blavatnik Building. Featured as part of ‘Living Cities’ in The George Economou Gallery, the humbling photographs taken by Stephen Shore and Birdhead are a reminder of the human soul that persists against the displacing nature of contemporary city life. The Tate Britain promotes British art from the 16th century to now, such as Turner and Anthea Hamilton, to name a few. On the main floor, the Tate Britain features sculptures by Henry Moore (one of my favourite artists) who explores the intricacies of the human body through the use of negative space in an entirely captivating way. Both of London’s Tate galleries not only display divine art but ensure that the space around the exhibitions is equally as exquisite. I’ll always find myself circling back around to the Tate galleries. They are an atmosphere in themselves and foster a relaxed and groovy environment to hang out in, while also embedding culture into your brain in an aesthetically pleasing way.

The Wallace Collection, found in Hertford House, is the perfect destination for those who are after a serene afternoon indulging in all things from the 18th and 19th century. Thanks to the sumptuous interiors, walking the halls of Hertford House is like jumping into the aforementioned time period where anything but lavish decadence and extravagance will not suffice. Alongside the paintings sit carriage clocks, snuff boxes, fans, vases and tea sets from the era, all of which are just as delicate and exquisite as the art itself. Despite being a comparatively small detail, my personal favourite aspect of the collection is that each room is colour themed and coordinated, meaning that each one fosters a different mood, activity or season – a deep opal navy promotes an imperially nautical tone depicted in paintings, whilst another room’s mustard yellow walls reflects the pastoral focus of the art. Simply divine!

180 The Strand would be better off outlined as a ‘creative space’ as opposed to a straight up ‘art gallery’. Housed within a prime example of brutalist architecture, the displays are utterly unique and really require you to keep an open mind as they innovatively push the boundaries of traditional concepts of ‘art’. The first exhibit is an immersive audio-visual artwork by Ryoji Ikeda, which is a jarring, yet trance-like experience. Here, sensory engagement trumps colour with an arguably superior effect. It’s uber vibey – taking art to an entirely new dimension. The gallery is curated in such a way that it guides your journey through the displays, and as you snake your way through the maze of exhibitions, the immersive encounter means that each piece appears to be in dialogue with the others. One of my favourite installations is ‘Everything at Once’, a collaboration by Lisson Gallery and The Vinyl Factory which is an audio-visual display that, for me, perfectly illustrates the hyperchaotic nature of 21st-century life that is tethered to technology. 180 The Strand is my ideal gallery; one that centres itself in a space that works harmoniously with its contents and the interplay of light and dark to harbour an utterly serene, yet groovy atmosphere. If you think that art galleries are dull, a visit to 180 The Strand will revolutionise your thinking.

And to add a few more to the list… If you’re looking for contemporary, try The Whitechapel Gallery, Design Museum, Saatchi Gallery, White Cube, or Serpentine Gallery. If it’s something more traditional that you’re after, try the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, or Royal Academy of Arts.

So, let’s ask that question again. How about an art gallery…?

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