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Graffiti on Hanbury Street | Photo by Jim Linwood
Graffiti on Hanbury Street | Photo by Jim Linwood

An Art Lover's Guide to East London

Picture of Holly Black
Updated: 5 September 2017

The East End is a power house of creativity, so it’s hardly surprising that there are a huge number of galleries and other artistic endeavours to enjoy in the area. With this guide you can seek out best art the area has to offer, whether you’re into street art or traditional museums.

Must-see galleries

Whitechapel Gallery

Just a stone’s throw from the bottom of Brick Lane you can find East London’s largest single devotion to contemporary art. The gallery is known for hosting ground breaking thematic exhibitions such as the 1956 show This Is Tomorrow, as well as retrospectives of formidable artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Sarah Lucas.

Insider tip: If you get lost, just remember that gallery is instantly recognisable by the permanent Cornelia Parker sculpture that adorns the building’s façade. It takes the form of hundreds of golden leaves.

77-82 Whitechapel High St, London, UK

Whitechapel Gallery | Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

Raven Row

Nestled between the Huguenot houses that cluster around the border between Spitalfields and The City you can find this contemporary gallery, which is housed in a beautifully transformed 18th-century town house. The gallery presents exhibitions across all three floors and also operates its own publishing imprint, called Four Corner Books.

56 Artillery Ln, London, UK

The Ulm Model at Raven Row | Photo by John Kannenberg

Chisenhale Gallery

Just across the canal from Victoria Park you can find Chisenhale Gallery, which has been championing contemporary art for 34 years. This artist-funded enterprise gained infamy for exhibiting a new range of innovative young artists in the 1990s, including Wolfgang Tillmans, Rachel Whiteread and Gillian Wearing.

64 Chisenhale Rd, London, UK

V&A Museum of Childhood

Miles away from its more famed museum counterpart, the V&A Museum of Childhood is situated moments from Bethnal Green station. Although the institution originally held objects that had been donated following the Great Exhibition it gradually began to focus on pieces relating to childhood in the 1920s, after the head curator noticed the number of bored children roaming around the building. It is now a fantastic resource for everything relating to child education and play throughout Britain’s history.

Insider tip: Look out for the beautiful mosaics that adorn the museum’s exterior. The depict scenes of agriculture, arts and science, in keeping with the Victorian notion that all parts of the mind, body and soul should be nourished.

Cambridge Heath Rd, London, UK

Interior at the Museum of Childhood | Courtesy V&A Museum of Childhood

The Approach

The Approach has been bringing contemporary art to Bethnal Green for over two decades, from its location above a pub bearing the same name. It began by supporting fledgling artists at the beginning of their career, but many of these practitioners are now globally renowned. Their current portfolio includes world-famous collagist John Stezaker.

47 Approach Rd, London, UK

The Art Pavilion Mile End Park

The Art Pavilion seems miles away from the hustle and bustle of the East End in the greenery of Mile End Park. This glass-fronted gallery overlooks a peaceful lake and commands wonderful views. The space is available to hire for events and exhibition, including live performances.

Clinton Rd, London, UK

The Art Pavilion Mile End Park | Courtesy The Art Pavilion

Bloomberg Space

Bloomberg Space has been collaborating with and commissioning contemporary artists for over 10 years, with talent including internationally regarded artists Althea Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi. The space sits inside Bloomberg’s European headquarters in Finsbury Square, but you can also find a reactive permanent installation by Tobias Rehberger called NEST in the building’s atrium. The sculpture consists of 888 spheres that light up in parallel with the number of people logged into the network at any given time

50 Finsbury Square, London, UK

Maureen Paley

Maureen Paley exhibits innovative artists who work in any medium. The gallery began blazing a trail for contemporary art in the East End back in the 1980s, beginning life in a terraced house on Beck Road, next to London Fields, where many artists had settled, before moving to its current home down the road in Bethnal Green. Some of the biggest artists in the world exhibited with here early in their career, including Liam Gillick, Gillian Wearing and Wolfgang Tillmans.

21 Herald St, London, UK

Installation shot of ‘Stages’ by Tom Burr at Maureen Paley, London 2017 | © Tom Burr, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Take a tour

First Thursdays

This infamous evening art event sees every gallery in the area (approximately 150) open its doors to showcase the latest exhibitions, on the first Thursday of every month. Clusters of spaces throughout Bethnal Green, Hackney and Spitalfields mean that it’s easy to hop from one venue to another, although an official tour is arranged by the Whitechapel Gallery, in partnership with Time Out.

East London Street Art Tour

For those who want to look beyond the galleries there is a fantastic amount of street art to be found throughout East London. Learn about these local and international artists and the stories behind their work with a guided tour around some of the most famous spots, covering everything from Stik to Roa.

Graffiti on Hanbury Street | Photo by Jim Linwood