Explore London’s emerging art scene with today’s guest writer, Laura Mannering. In this post, Laura shares her top gallery picks—ranging from a hair salon to a converted print shop. Check out her blog, the World Out There, for more travel advice from local experts.
London’s top 5 emerging art galleries
Any art lover will be blinded by choice in London. Major galleries like the National, Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Royal Academy bag the big names, from Turner to Miro. Smaller powerhouses like the Serpentine, Hayward, Whitechapel and White Cube push the boundaries with a more offbeat take, championing contemporary stars.
And then there are the fashionable upstarts that have become London institutions – chief among them Camden’s Proud Gallery, famed for its rock ‘n’ roll photography shows, glam opening nights and roof terrace bar with DJs and live bands.
But, for me, one of the best things about art in London is that it is everywhere. There are hundreds of tiny galleries, opening sporadic hours and doing their own thing. They reflect the character of their neighborhoods and add a colorful dash of creativity. They’re also great for aspiring collectors – works at these galleries are always for sale.
Here are my top five picks for emerging art galleries in London.
#5. Menier Gallery
A beautiful, airy gallery-for-hire on the ground floor of a renovated chocolate factory, minutes from the River Thames and London Bridge. Still with traces of its industrial past (the interior has plenty of exposed brick and iron girders), Menier showcases mainly up-and-coming contemporary artists who put on bold shows with lots of flair. The charity Paintings in Hospitals manages the gallery and uses the rental fee to fund its work: brightening hospital walls with art.
Menier reflects this south London neighborhood’s mix of old and new – the historic building (which also houses the Menier Chocolate Factory theater and restaurant) is overshadowed by the Shard of Glass, still under construction and destined to be London’s tallest skyscraper.
Once you’re done at the gallery, take time for nearby Borough Market – one of the city’s biggest fresh produce venues, it’s also great for picking up a hot chorizo sandwich or lovingly-whisked meringue to snack on.
#4. Flaxon Ptootch
An exciting, innovative art space, this Kentish Town hair salon is creating a buzz on the north London scene. Championing talented local artists, Flaxon Ptootch hosts private views on the second Thursday of each month.
Otherwise, visitors can pop in any time to look at what’s on the walls – and if you just want a haircut, the combination of art and good music is a welcome contrast to the neon hell of most salons.
Down the road is Camden Town, long-time favored haunt of goths, punks, grungy teens, rockabillies and party people. For a fresh-air escape head 15 minutes north to Hampstead Heath, one of the London’s best green spaces, with woodland walks, swimming ponds and panoramic views.
#3. Payne Shurvell
Just a year old, East London’s Payne Shurvell is proud of its highly-curated shows. The pristine white space is tucked away in a concrete low-rise, in formerly gritty, now super-trendy, Shoreditch.
Recent shows have included an exhibition of satirical works from legendary British feminist Margaret Harrison, which also featured London performance artists The Girls creating a live tableau inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. You get the picture!
With its avant-garde take and ambitions to stay at the cutting edge, Payne Shurvell reflects the neighborhood’s standing as a magnet for urban creatives. Surrounded by great cafes, bars and restaurants, make sure you stop for a drink or bite. The Book Club is good for cocktails, eats and a game of ping-pong – and has its own art shows too.
#2. Pictures on Walls
Heading a few minutes further into the heart of the East End, the bars, boutiques and experimental haircuts are less frequent. Things are more real here and people are just busy going about their daily lives.
On this border lies screen print treasure house Pictures on Walls. Formerly just a print shop, it moved to bigger premises so it could fully display its wares in a cavernous showroom with dusty wooden floorboards, battered sofas and a back wall sprayed with a giant amorphous graffiti head, complete with wooden rainbows spouting from its eyes.
Every few months there is a solo exhibition by a screen print artist from Britain or abroad. In between times, POW plasters the walls with the best of its print archive. There is still a working print room downstairs and the shop works closely with artists to develop their images.
After you’ve perused, it’s well worth heading a few minutes further east to Whitechapel for some of London’s best-value eateries. Pakistani perennial Tayyabs is most people’s favourite. Be prepared to queue – the lamb chops alone are worth it.
#1. The Little Black Gallery
A stylish artistic outpost in the heart of upmarket Chelsea, The Little Black Gallery may be small but it packs a glamorous punch. LBG is outstanding for its archive of work by legendary British fashion photographer Bob Carlos Clarke; his erotically-charged portraits always cause a stir and the gallery shows a retrospective of his work each year.
Its draws marquee names like Terry O’Neill and Mike Figgis – the Leaving Las Vegas director is currently displaying a collection of portraits of supermodel Kate Moss. But it is also dedicated to exhibiting emerging names in contemporary photographic art.
Browse the gallery’s two floors, then soak up the rarefied village atmosphere of this posh pocket of London. Take a walk through magnificent Kensington Gardens – one of the Royal Parks, it’s a 15-minute walk from the gallery.
Laura Mannering is a freelance journalist and editor of travel blog Worldoutthere.net.
She was inspired to set up the blog after a 10-month career break spent traveling around the world. Now back in London, she writes features for UK magazines and is a regular contributor to online events guide le cool London.
Find her on Twitter at @world_out_there.