V&A and The British Museum
The two most obvious places to begin on your search for Asian art are the V&A in South Kensington, and the British Museum in Russell Square. Both hold some of the world’s best collections of Asian art and both give an excellent overview of the arts in Asia. Their collections are displayed clearly, well explained, and offer an immense variety of styles and cultures. Moreover, both the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert boast free entry into their permanent exhibitions, along with free guided tours, occasional lunch time lectures, and daily ‘hands on’ sessions, which allow the visitor to hold certain objects of the collection with an expert.
V&A, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL +44 20 7942 2000
British Museum, Great Russell Street,London WC1B 3DG +44 20 7323 8299
The Brunei Gallery
If you are looking for a smaller gallery in the heart of the museum mile, look no further than the Brunei Gallery, opposite the main entrance of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. This small gallery hosts a plethora of objects of interest, each stemming from Africa, Asia or the Middle East, and its proximity to the British Museum, as well as its location on a bustling university campus, gives this gallery a vibrant and exciting atmosphere. The Brunei Gallery also offers a series of lectures, tours and exhibitions, such as Maps of Persia 1477 – 1925, opening on 23 January. The Brunei’s Japanese Roofgarden is the perfect place to seek refuge from the busy streets of central London.
Brunei Gallery, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG +44 20 7898 4046
Horniman Museum and Gardens
As well as these three permanent collections, London offers an amazing range of temporary exhibitions. The benefits of these exhibitions lie in the way they educate viewers on a narrower field of art, forming a more specialised understanding of the works on display. An example of this is Memories of China, an exciting new exhibition coming to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill from 17 January until 12 April. The exhibition focuses on objects created or used by Chinese migrants in the UK in the early 20th century. Along with its temporary exhibition, the Horniman Museum holds a charming array of over 1,000 artefacts from cultures all around the world, telling the story of how they came to be in the collection and how they were viewed by different collectors over the last 100 years.
Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, London SE23 3PQ +44 20 8699 1872
The British Library & The Royal Asiatic Society
If you are keen on art in relation to literature or history, the collection of artifacts in the British Library or Royal Asiatic Society may be of interest to you. The Royal Asiatic Society boasts over 80,000 volumes in manuscripts, paintings and photographs. Although these are harder to get your hands on, phoning in advance to ensure your entry will give you access to an immense collection of artifacts which are well worth the effort. Moreover, the Royal Asiatic Society has free lectures at the beginning of each month.
British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB +44 330 333 1144
Royal Asiatic Society, 14 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HD+44 207388 4539
Finally, if you have something particular in mind it is often easier to take a look at some of the smaller, more commercial galleries. The Hua Gallery, for example, displays an array of new and often controversial contemporary Chinese artworks. Moreover, the Hua Gallery is London’s only contemporary Chinese art gallery of its size with permanent exhibitions. The 21st of January marks the opening of Wang Ai’s first-ever solo show in the UK. Wang Ai is a respected poet and artist who is renowned for the balance and harmony created in his paintings out of rice paper, tea, ink and special pencils.