Why London dominates the Art World

I admit I am a snob. Despite being in the art business I mostly cannot bring myself to go see exhibitions in galleries in cities I find myself in. Ditto for museum exhibitions. And exhibitions in art centers, institutions, art-related establishments, and art cafes for that matter. The reason? When it comes to (among other things) art, I am spoilt.

Because of London.

Over the top in every sense, Alberto Giacometti & Yves Klein at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill Gallery 

Because I have been exposed to its intoxicating vibe and unique mojo for discovering, understanding and launching Art in a contemporary context. And this city, in an eccentric backdrop of tea and monarchy, knows how to be eternally contemporary. A look at the photos renders an attempt to defend the argument redundant but, for the sake of it, I will lay out some facts and thoughts to this effect.

Oh, the joy of running into a Yoshitomo Nara exhibition at the cosy Stephen Friedman gallery while walking around Mayfair…

An admission first: I am partial when it comes to London. I have been schooled there during a time that defined Contemporary Art as we know it today. It was the time the YBA movement was forming and I was lucky enough to witness this phenomenon in the making. I have seen the exhibitions at the old Saatchi Gallery in St. John’s Wood. I have seen the Sensation exhibition and “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” up close. I have seen shows that caused public uproar. My notion of Art has been critically shaped by these experiences.

Jeff Koons extravaganza in the tiny new Almine Rech Grosvenor Hill gallery 

London has an utterly exciting, thriving art scene. It is a place where trends hatch, rather than just flourish. Whether it is blockbuster exhibitions, featuring all the right names, or alternative, independent shows, championing new ones, London delivers. If you are an art lover in search of thrills, it is the place to visit. It caters for all needs, moreover offering easy, well-designed access between spaces.

Gigantic Bob Dylan exhibition across 2 Bond Street locations of the Cortina Gallery

The city has an impressive amount of galleries. It is hard to fathom the implied demand for art, but the numbers support it. Several areas act as art hubs and you can walk around and go literally from door to door and enjoy world class art, whichever door you pick. Some of these galleries are humbling in size, starchitect-designed, presenting AAA exhibitions that make you re-evaluate your relationship with the surrounding world. And this happens more often than not.

They had me at “Kaws” alone, but the Phillips Berkeley Square space offered a delightful panorama of Contemporary Art

But it is not just about size or opulence – often times, this is not even the case. It is not even about the star artists that parade in and out of the exhibition spaces. It is about the sheer volume of mind-blowing art events, happening simultaneously, all over the place, from museums to galleries to inconspicuous pop-up spaces. In most places you get to see between 0-4 memorable exhibitions in the course of a year. In London you can catch 10 at any given day.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres & RENOIR at Nahmad Projects. Seriously now?

Examples of premium galleries include the White Cube (with 2 locations, in Mayfair and Bermondsey), Gagosian Gallery (3 spaces in the British capital), Hauser & Wirth (2 locales off Bond Street), Victoria Miro (East and Central) and Sadie Coles (another 2, 3, or 4 spaces – every time I visit a new one has popped-up). They all occupy prime real estate  to host their blockbuster exhibitions to astonishing effect.

Ok, here I don’t remember where we are but it was full of Joan Miró(s) & Co as if it was no big deal

Parallel to them another brand of galleries, not necessarily as big in sq.m. but equally sumptuous, present the primest of what is going on right now. Such galleries include Blain Southern (a gallery I never fail to visit), Stephen FriedmanAlmine Rech, Sprovieri and more. And the other galleries like Waddington Custot and Cortina that casually present high end works, to enjoy in between your frappuccino and facial appointment.

Alex Katz at Serpentine Gallery

And then there is the other galleries, smaller ones, spread across the city, the ones championing a different branch of contemporary art. Galleries like The Stolen Space, Lazarides, Jealous – galleries that work hard to represent what’s interesting and new right now, proposing what is off the mainstream’s radar and make you feel like an accomplish to their curatorial approach. The ones that spell NEW in neon flashlights. I have a soft spot for them.

Bosco Sodi swag at Blain Southern

And of course there is the official establishments like the Tate Modern, The Whitechapel Gallery, the Barbican, the Royal Academy (and the list goes on and on). And there is Damien Hirst‘s Newport Street Gallery, which takes the entire contemporary art & audience thing to an entirely new level; but this is something that merits a post of its own.

A humble Louise Bourgeois display at the humble new wing of Tate Modern

And then you think of the exhibitions in your country and the galleries in, say, Greece and its cultural infrastructure and it all feels pathetic and very humbling. Every time I expose myself to the London art scene it strikes me as absurd to call myself a “colleague” of the people working the art scene there. My status may give me rightful permission to do so, but reality takes us worlds apart. And this holds truth for several other countries I have worked in.

Gavin Turk show at the Newport Street Gallery (which quickly entered my top 10 of London art destinations)

Back to happier thoughts, when art-crawling in London, my SOS list includes: The White Cubes (both of them), Gagosian (the Central spaces), Blain Southern, The Stolen Space, Hauser & Wirth, Lazarides and, of course, the Newport Street Gallery. If I have more time I work the full Mayfair circle, all of Shoreditch, the Serpentine, the Whitechapel Gallery, New Cavendish Street and the National Portrait Gallery. And when time is not issue I check everything out because there is no such thing as a bad show in London – the least you can expect is to expand your cultural horizon. So next time you find yourself in the capital, make sure to catch a few shows, even if it is purely for educational purposes. The thrill is guaranteed.

Georg Baselitz at the astonishing space of White Cube Bermondsey

During May, June & December I caught (among others) Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Kaws, Yoshitomo Nara, Georg Baselitz, Giacommetti, Yves Klein, Ben Eine, Tracey Emin, Renoir, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, D*Face, The London Police, Gilbert & George, Gavin Turk, Alex Katz; And works by Andy Warhol, Matisse, Miró, Picasso, Van Gogh. To name but a few.

You walk up random stairs in Soho and it is a Francis Bacon exhibition and I rest my case

The photos are meant as a (very) tightly curated sample of what I saw and by no means represent the entirety of what was on offer in London at the time. But it is not difficult to understand the tune the city is playing in.

Amazing, as always, Ben Eine at the Lights of Soho, radically redefining what a bar exhibition can look like

So yes, forgive me next time I pass on seeing a Matisse exhibition in some American village and forgive me for not coming to see your show even if it is a 5 minute walk away from home. It is only because I am spoilt.

The Yayoi Kusama pumpkin room at Victoria Miro gallery was as thrilling as the dizzy photo suggests

Here follow some links to facilitate your explorations if you find yourself in need to do some art-watching next time you are in London:

Art Monthly Gallery Map
Art Map London
London’s Art Gallery Hotspots Interactive Map (The Guardian)
Time Out London Art

and the London Tube Map to arrange your transport when wanderlust hits

DISCLAIMER: Of course I DO see exhibitions whenever & wherever I can 🙂

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautiful…and so the title…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. wow; this post consumed a lot of your time, and we are the benefactors! it’s always great when one returns to places of comfort! thanks so much for the tour of your favorites!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thank you Z – I am so glad you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

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