The Good And Bad Of London’s Art Scene

National Gallery. Source: Visit London

Alongside New York and Paris, London is considered one of the most important cities in the art world. But what is it that makes it such a great city for art and where do we think changes for the better could be made? We’ve compiled a short list of the great, and the not so great, aspects of London’s art scene:

The Good

It’s (mostly) free!
Read any tour guide of London and they wax lyrical about how entrance to all our major museums and art galleries is free. Sure, there may be a charge for temporary exhibitions but there are very few galleries or museums where you’ll have to pay an entrance charge to see their permanent collection. We don’t know of any other major city that has this policy.

Sheer numbers
Nobody’s quite sure how many galleries we have but it’s been estimated that there may be up to 1,500 permanent gallery spaces in London, and that doesn’t include any pop-ups. With this amount of art on display, if you can’t find something to suit your tastes then maybe art isn’t for you. The fact that the super-rich love to frequent our city means that any gallery of international repute must have a London branch to be seen as a serious player.

Variety
It’s not just loads of galleries with similar work; every aspect of art is covered off – whether it be moving image or drawings, sculpture or photography. If the Mayfair heavyweights aren’t your thing, then you can check out the independent galleries that tend to gravitate around Shoreditch or South London. With the Fitzrovia galleries also making their presence felt in the middle ground, there’s something for everyone irrespective of taste or bank balance.

The Bad

The art world can be very intimidating to newcomers and here are the three worst offences that can put people off visiting commercial galleries.

The ‘Cold Welcome’
We all know art tries to be exclusive and that it’s valuable, so you need to know when someone has entered the gallery to stop them running off with artworks. But is the following experience really necessary?

  • Spot the name of the gallery on a tiny brass plaque next to a doorbell.
  • Ring the bell to be greeted by an accusatory ‘May I help you?’, while they remotely give you the once over via a camera.
  • Then make your way through two sets of doors and up some stairs before finally making it to the gallery, where you may have to knock or ring a bell again.
  • Enter the gallery where the staff give you a quick glance before deciding that you don’t seem ‘serious’ and leave you to it.

It’s enough to put even seasoned gallery explorers off.

The private view misnomer
It’s fine to have an exclusive viewing for a big name artist with only serious collectors getting a first look at the works. But if you’ve advertised the private view on your website and newsletter, then surely renaming it to an opening night would make it much more welcoming to those who don’t know that ‘private’ doesn’t necessarily mean private.

Thankfully we’ve got our own guide to private views that should help you cut through the abstruse art lingo.

Limited opening hours
Everybody deserves a weekend but in comparison to the opening hours of other retail outlets, art galleries are definitely lagging behind. Only being open Monday to Fridays, 9-5 doesn’t really help anyone whose got a day job – i.e. most of us. By making weekends ‘by appointment only’ also prevents people from dropping in, as most people wouldn’t feel comfortable calling and booking a time slot unless they’re dead set on buying.

That’s our summary: if your experiences have revealed other highs and lows, let us know by leaving a comment.

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Tabish Khan 2

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  • jessica

    I find it sometimes overwhelming to choose which exhibition to visit, there is so much on all the time.

  • http://twitter.com/abigail_box Abigail Box (artist)

    I agree, there are such events that operate as ‘private views’ but I like to say ‘opening event’ when it is an evening open to everyone. Recently I’ve seen ‘opening night’ or ‘preview’ used more often and I like that a few place such as Chisenhale Gallery do a coffee and cake morning as an alternative.