When the review copy of this new arts guide landed in the Londonist inbox, we grinned the cheeky grin of a reviewer with a light task ahead. Broken down into bite-sized chunks covering all main eras and forms, The Art Guide London looked like a reference book we could scan in minutes and sum up quickly.
Not so. It turns out to be a treasure, and by far the broadest popular account of London's art offerings we've seen. It's one guide book you'll want to read cover to cover, as did we.
Generously illustrated, with high production values, we can't fault the presentation. The format is chronological, running from early art at places such as the British Museum right through to very recent works (and even into the future, with a mention of Anish Kapoor's Orbit tower, currently under construction in the Olympic Park). Author Sam Phillips has the daunting task of covering 14,000 years of creativity, in disciplines from ancient rock art to street art, and spread over 100 venues. He never puts a foot wrong, so far as we can tell.
The introduction kindly offers seven different ways you might use the book, none of which would ever be 'door jamb'. It serves fine as a general reference to art in London, but can also be read as a bluffer's guide to the history of art. You can work it harder still by following certain artists or styles around town. Fancy doing a 'Turner crawl'? You're given 13 public galleries where his work hangs in London. Prefer Rococo? Head to the Wallace Collection then follow up on 12 additional suggestions.
If you're one of those people who often quips 'All these museums and galleries on my doorstep, and I never get round to visiting', this is all the inspiration you need. If you're already well acquainted with the city's main offerings, the book's 100+ locations will have you roaming more broadly. An absolute essential purchase.