Contemporary art galleries in London crop up in everything from shipping containers to revamped public loos. Are they the best locations to take in the London art scene? Possibly not. While we’re all for a quirky venue, the city’s big galleries remain the best places to see the must–see masterpieces from all genres. So yes, we’ve peppered our list with a couple of familiar names, but we’ve also got a few lesser known galleries for you to muse over brush strokes in. And, you’ll be relieved to hear, none are in anything close to a former toilet.
The Crypt Gallery
The first gallery on our list lets you tick off a couple of weekend break boxes. Nip down to the depths of The Crypt Gallery for a hefty dose of dark tourism alongside an ever–changing menu of exhibits. Yes, it’s a slightly ominous place for a bit of light-hearted portrait browsing. But, if nothing else, the change of scene – from blank white walls to ancient, slightly crumbling brick, adds a mood to every event. Always worth a visit if you’re in North London.
This grand, old gallery barely needs an introduction. But Tate Britain’s getting a mention here because, well, people do seem to lean towards its shinier and more controversial sibling, the Tate Modern. And, though we’d never suggest giving the contemporary art there a pass, there’s a wealth of British art history to explore here. And, it’s far from fusty. You’ll be able to cast your eyes upon works dating back to the 1500s and see how our art has evolved over time. Skip from a Gainsborough to a Hockney with ease in the permanent collection, pay a few extra pounds for a peep at their temporary exhibits and, yes, do exit through the gift shop. We’re quite fond of their vintage exhibition posters, but there are better coffee shops in London, if you’re looking for post-art caffeine hit.
Is there any greater joy than finding free things to do in the swankier parts of London? Blend your bargain hunting skills with art appreciation at KÖNIG London. There’s 3750 feet of art-filled underground car park for you to meander through. Entry is, of course, free – and you’re right on the doorstep of some other top–notch attractions that don’t cost a penny. Marble Arch is just a stone’s throw away and you’re wedged nicely between two of London’s lovely green spaces, Regent’s Park and Hyde Park. On the art side of the coin? Works are typically by young, emerging international artists expressing their creativity across a broad range of mediums. Concept-based, you could see anything from performance pieces to sculpture and photography. A chance to see the next big thing? Don’t miss it.
Orbzii tip: This gallery is a spin off from the original KÖNIG Galerie in Berlin. Do drop in if you’re in the area. There’s also a gallery in Japan, should you be roaming further afield.
The National Gallery
We’re here to talk about the best art galleries in London. So it seems only right to include a gallery with a rep for being one of the best art spaces in the world. Big promises. And, The National Gallery more than delivers. Free entry – always a plus in London – gives you access to over 2,000 pieces. The big name hanging on these walls? Van Gogh. This is THE place to see his famous sunflowers. Swing by a Botticelli, tick off Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Constable and gen up on the Renaissance. Paintings in the collection date back to the 13th century and, if you browse long enough, you can whizz through space and time until you reach 20th century stylings. If you go to one fine art gallery in London? Make it this one.
The Photographer’s Gallery
With so many fine art galleries in London to choose from, does photography ever get a look in? If all things lens-based have been off your radar, take the opportunity to change that with a visit to The Photographer’s Gallery. This Covent Garden gallery is always chock full of images that will move, inspire or puzzle you. An incredibly diverse art form that’s not always comfortable viewing. Of course, there’s always the chance to view some fine art photography too, if that’s your genre of choice.
Orbzii tip: Inspired to take some shots of your own? One of London’s most Instagrammable restaurants is just a five minute walk from The Photographer’s Gallery. Sketch is split over a few floors. But on the gallery floor? You find a huge exhibition of David Shrigley’s pieces. Their afternoon teas are a work of art too.
Annka Kultys Gallery
If you’ve been swept up in the NFT art phenomenon you’ll want to swing by Annka Kultys Gallery. It’s one of the few art galleries in East London, or London as a whole, to focus on digital and internet-based pieces. Artists here may not be selling their works yet as a NFT in the cryptocurrency space. But, it’ll perhaps give you an idea of what to invest in, how digital art is shaking up the whole art scene or add a twist to an art weekend in the city. Drop by here to see where art is heading over the course of the next decade.
Orbzii tip: Still not convinced on digital art as a medium? Internet artist Beeple sold his 5000 days NFT through Christie’s auction house for £50m. Food for thought.