London is home to some of the world’s most exceptional national art collections, open to the public for free. But it also boasts a host of eclectic small art galleries in quieter corners of the city. Take a detour from the big museums with Culture Trip’s guide to some of the capital’s quirkiest galleries.
Founded by Ami Clarke in 2010 on Platform 1 of Hackney Downs Overground station, Banner Repeater is a gallery, reading room and experimental events space. Located in the former station waiting room, the artist-run venue is an unexpected find that will introduce you to the work of recent graduates, alternative art writing and the critical landscape of London’s multifaceted art scene.
Initially a nomadic enterprise that organised exhibitions in a variety of venues across the city – including a hotel and church – Emalin opened its permanent Shoreditch space in September 2016. Overseen by friends Leopold Thun and Angelina Volk, Emalin’s exhibition programme showcases figures such as cult performance artist Kembra Pfahler and Goldsmiths graduate Athena Papadopoulos.
Contemporary art collections are often housed in stark white cube spaces, but Domo Baal, the woman behind this eponymous Bloomsbury gallery offers something different. Her gallery, housed in a grand Georgian building, feels like a particularly lavish friend’s home, filled with curious exhibits showcasing the best in contemporary art. It’s well worth a visit.
The vaults beneath St Pancras Parish Church have taken on a variety of roles over the centuries. They were used as burial grounds from 1822 and 1854 to combat the overcrowding of village graveyards, and later as an air-raid shelter in both World Wars. In 2002 this underground space was transformed into a contemporary arts venue named The Crypt Gallery, which you can visit today. Enter through the bright-red door on Dukes road and explore the collections, curated to provoke contemplation.
Cecilia Brunson Projects is located in a prime Bermondsey spot, with big-name gallery neighbours including White Cube. What started in curator Cecilia Brunson’s home has evolved into a contemporary commercial gallery space that focuses primarily on Latin American art. The gallery has an outpost in Santiago, and works with artists who engage with the idea of remoteness and peripheral existence in Chile.
A peripatetic art gallery, Cabinet has moved around the city over the years, from Brixton in the south to Old Street in the east of the city. Now, directors Martin McGeown and Andrew Wheatley have relocated the gallery to a new building in Vauxhall specially designed by Trevor Horne Architects, so that more people can discover established fringe artists such as Cosey Fanni Tutti as well as emerging talent championed by the pair.
In a former underground carpark, you’ll find König Galerie’s new London space. The gallery has its base in Berlin and is known for working with interdisciplinary artists who create site-specific projects, so expect something striking when you visit this 3,000-square-foot (278-square-metre) subterranean location. Take away a piece of art from the König Souvenir shop which stocks editions and objects inspired by the presentations in the gallery.
Ever since Banksy first captivated the public imagination, street art has steadily gained its credibility in the art world, and Graffik London has exhibited work by some of the most reputable names on the scene. The gallery on Portobello Road shows the finest street and urban art year-round. Street art is decidedly more mainstream than it once was, and has come a long way from territorial tagging days. Visit Graffik for a look at some of the best emerging artists and to get a flavour for the history of this expressive medium.
Housed in a former Edwardian Police Station in Deptford, this DIY arts centre uses the disused building to present a variety of micro-exhibitions. Artists are encouraged to occupy and exhibit their work in The Old Police Station’s prison cells, and the site now features its own recording studio and radio station. The co-existence of the old police equipment and busy new resident artists gives the place a unique charm.
This crowdfunded project saw an old toilet block in Brunswick Park, Camberwell, turned into a small art gallery and publishing hub complete with a café. The Bower project was conceived by Louisa Bailey and Joyce Cronin, who worked with architects Claire and Kazuya Nakamoto to create a new, engaging community space.
This East London museum is a cabinet of curiosities that doubles as a cocktail bar. Visitors are invited to sip on an absinthe infusion while enjoying this eclectic collection of shrunken heads, taxidermy, skeletons, etchings and paintings. Unlike most museums and galleries, The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities prides itself on a lack of coherence or labelling, instead encouraging patrons to immerse themselves in the experience. For more hands-on individuals, there are also courses on taxidermy on offer, as well as other talks and events throughout the year.
Taking its name from a work by Marcel Duchamp, this commercial gallery can be found on Caledonian Road, away from the traditional museum and gallery hotspots. Large Glass, with its diverse exhibition programme and dynamic events calendar, is a must-visit for any curious art lover.
This 90-metre (295-foot) pedestrian tunnel offers a useful shortcut from the depths of the underground to the newly regenerated spaces of King’s Cross. More than that, it features a specially designed LED ‘art wall’ with 190 controllable pixels. The wall has been designed to showcase a range of new, site-specific works including the 2014 installation Pipette, which consisted of a beautiful range of soothing colours that moved gradually through a spectrum, offering a calming influence on the crowds of commuters descending into the station.
Peruvian restaurant Ceviche doubles up as an art gallery, with exhibitions from Lima and beyond and featuring paintings, illustrations and drawings as well as the odd piece of sculpture. The idea is the brainchild of restauranteur Martin Morales, who realised that London lacked a dedicated space for Peruvian art and cuisine. There is even an app you can download while enjoying your meal to view the full artwork details and pricing information of everything on display.
This subterranean urban art gallery is buried in tunnels deep beneath Waterloo station. As well as the rolling exhibitions of contemporary international art, they host a series of live performance events including acoustic music nights. It’s truly a unique underground experience for music and art lovers alike.