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Northern Ireland’s buzzing capital city of Belfast is an increasingly popular tourist spot with a bustling atmosphere and a rich, vibrant history. It is also becoming one of the cultural and artistic centres of the UK, with a range of home-grown artists and independent galleries. We profile ten must-visit galleries in Belfast.
Located in the heart of Belfast’s cultural quarter, the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) is one of Northern Ireland’s premier artistic venues. The MAC includes three outstanding art galleries within its impressive six-storey building. With free admission to the galleries seven days a week, the MAC aims to encourage an increased interest in art. Their mission statement claims that they “select, create and mix up music, theatre, dance and art — bringing you the very best of local and international talent under one roof.” From a wide range of exciting exhibitions to newly-commissioned works and monumental sculptures, the centre offers something for everyone. Previous exhibitors have featured acclaimed British artist L.S. Lowry, LA-based artist Robert Therrien, and local artists Nicholas Keogh and Maria McKinney.
Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland’s primary gallery for celebrating contemporary photography, publishing, commissioning, and showing work by artists and photographers from Northern Ireland and across the world. The space was founded in 1983 by local photographers who wished to articulate city life from the perspective of the community. The gallery has focused on the production of politically and socially-engaged work with regards of community photography by local practitioners. Belfast Exposed runs two galleries and a bookshop, and delivers an extensive community engagement programme. Belfast Exposed also hosts an archive of half a million images, 2,000 of which have been digitized and made available for browsing in the upstairs Exchange Gallery. Alongside working with major international individuals in contemporary photography, the gallery also promotes emerging local talents.
Catalyst Arts Gallery is Belfast’s premier artist-led organisation. Run by volunteers, Catalyst Arts is known for challenging the formal and expected structures of curatorship. By materialising projects and exhibitions of an experimental nature, the gallery suggests that art should be something to consume, rather than merely mused upon. Catalyst runs the oldest biennial performance art festival in Europe, along with continuing to showcase individual and groups of artists frequently. During its near 20 years of existence, Catalyst Arts Gallery has hosted over 1,000 artists, spanning continents and career stages. Catalyst Arts welcomes anyone who wishes to volunteer, sending in proposals for exhibitions or projects, and applying to become a director. In order to stay cutting-edge, each directorship lasts two years in order to ensure that Catalyst remains vibrant with new energy.
Golden Thread Gallery prides itself on being “Northern Ireland’s leading international contemporary visual arts organisation, based in and informed by the local.” It is thus actively committed to enhancing and widening the cultural experience for those living, working, and visiting Belfast. From its beginnings in a former linen mill on a contested ‘peace line’ in North Belfast, Golden Thread Gallery has delivered annual programmes of exhibitions and activities to make a real contribution to the visual arts and wider communities in Northern Ireland. Since its inception in 1998, the gallery has worked with major Northern Irish artists such as Colin Darke, Locky Morris, and Paul Seawright, alongside other internationally-renowned artists such as Tracey Emin, Delcy Morelos, and William Kentridge. Situated on Great Patrick Street between Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and the historic Sailor Town area of the city, make sure you explore the Golden Thread Gallery during your time in the city.
Charles Gilmore is situated in the heart of the city at Lanyon Quay, Oxford Street adjacent to the Waterfront Hall. The gallery has been one of the leading dealers in the Irish art world for over 20 years. Strongly encouraging the work of young contemporary painters, Charles Gilmore insists on thorough representation and exhibitions for these emerging artists. The dynamic space has exhibited the work of artists such as Jack B Yeats, Colin Middleton, Dan O’Neill, Louis Le Brocquy, and Gerald Dillon.
Established in 1989, Gormleys has evolved into what can be safely regarded as one of Ireland’s leading contemporary galleries. Gormleys Fine Art represents over one hundred artists, and with this extensive catalogue they organise regular exhibitions. Within this relaxed environment, guests can peruse three storeys of art at their leisure. Whether you are purchasing or not, Gormleys Fine Art offers some of the best exhibits of both established and upcoming artists in Northern Ireland, from Rita Duffy, to Paul Christopher Flynn, Charles Harper, Stephen Johnston, and Tony Lynch.
Red Barn Gallery is a not-for-profit photographic gallery dedicated to the provision and advancement of the photographic arts for public benefit. The aim of Red Barn is to inspire and educate through exhibitions, projects and workshops with the objective of social documentary photography. With a particular interest in ephemera and archive, their ‘Shoebox Archives’ theme revolve around the interest of photographs of people, places and events taken by the public that have sat unseen for years. Dedicated to the most raw and authentic forms of photography, they revere those that have been captured with the camera, rather than created by the computer. Along with Belfast Exposed, it is a crucial photography gallery and exhibition space to central Belfast. Opened in 2008, it was constituted as the RBG Arts Group in May 2009 and it was the first to be dedicated to film and analogue based exhibitions.
The Ulster Museum is located in the Botanic Gardens of Belfast. It’s the largest museum in Northern Ireland with around 8,000 square metres of public display space for collections of art, applied art, ethnography, and local history. The museum is organised by geography and time period, from Italian paintings, to Dutch paintings, Flemish paintings, 17th, 18th, and 19th century Masters, 20th Century British art, European and American painting, sculpture, works on paper, costume and fashion, textiles, Irish paintings from the 17th century, and more. The museum is well-known for its display of African wood carvings; masks, figure carvings, wall and door panels, and other decorative items are all showcased. Celebrating the best of global culture, the Ulster Museum Art Collection offers something for everyone in its vast and extensive permanent collection.
This family-run gallery was established in 1979 from their High Street premises in Portadown. Eakin Gallery is currently located on Lisburn Road, taking up two stories of an old brick townhouse. The space is one of Ireland’s leading picture framers, with a small but arresting gallery inside. They showcase a variety of contemporary and traditional paintings, many of which are for sale. Leading Irish artists are regularly showcased, including William Conor, James Humbert Craig, Maurice C Wilks, and Frank McKelvey.