It’s cliche to describe London as a mass of contradictions—how could a city of London’s size and cultural diversity be anything but? More than 300 languages are spoken in its schools and almost a third of Londoners were born outside the UK. Space is contested as its multifarious residents—and a plethora of art and cultural spaces—rub shoulders and sometimes bump up against one another.
London’s art scene on the whole reflects its diverse DNA, from Mayfair’s glossy blue-chip galleries to artist co-operatives in on the city’s South side. As ever, October sees the city’s art scene kick into high gear as Frieze sets up shop in Regent’s Park. Gathering pace alongside it is the SUNDAY Art Fair, with its focus on emerging artists and younger galleries, and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, now in its third edition in London.
In fairs, as in all-else, London has something for everyone, and that means a dizzying array of choices. Here are some picks by Artsy insiders—owner of Carlos/Ishikawa, Vanessa Carlos; design dealer Brent Dzekciorius; and curator Fatos Ustek—arranged by neighborhood.
From left to right: Fatos Ustek, Brent Dzekciorius, and Vanessa Carlos.
Central London, Fitzrovia, and Soho
In the traffic-choked heart of the city you’ll find some of the major museums alongside a broad spectrum of commercial galleries. The area also plays host to a smattering of the city’s fairs, with pioneering Frieze London leading the throng. And leafy Bloomsbury, famed as home to Virginia Woolf and the city’s university district, is an intellectual hub and host to several of the city’s great, idiosyncratic museums housed in unassuming Georgian townhouses.
A. Frieze London and Frieze Masters
Regents Park, NW1 4NR
The biggest event in London’s contemporary art calendar, the 13th edition of Frieze London brings 164 galleries from 27 countries together in one enormous tent in Regent’s Park. A short walk to the northeast corner of the park, passing by the fair’s annual sculpture park, leads to Frieze Masters, the complementary fair specialized on art created before 2000.
B. SUNDAY Art Fair
35 Marylebone Road, NW1
With a far smaller collection of 25 international galleries, this fair is a space for young dealers to show single artist or curated presentations in a relaxed environment.
C. Insider tip: Afterwards, head to Vanessa Carlos’s favorite sushi restaurant, Dinings (22 Harcourt St, W1H 4HH), in nearby Marylebone for artfully tiny plates of sushi.
62 Kingly Street, W1B 5QN
The namesake owner’s association with the Young British Artists positions this gallery as a London art establishment, but Coles also represents a younger generation of artists such as Helen Marten and Marvin Gaye Chetwynde. Stop in before Oct. 24 to see Ugo Rondinone’s stunning show of technicolored stone sculptures and cloud paintings.
E. Insider tip: Follow up a visit to her Soho gallery with a bite at Brent Dzekciorius’s favorite tapas restaurant, Barrafina (54 Frith St, W1D 4SL).
Installation view, Ugo Rondinone, “clouds + mountains + waterfalls,” Sadie Coles HQ, London, 11 September – 24 October 2015. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.
56-57 Eastcastle Street, W1W 8EQ
This gallery has carved out a niche since opening in 2012 with its focus on art engaged with socio-political issues and technology. Shows by Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Richard T. Walker are complemented by a stellar series of artist talks this autumn, including Juliet Jacques and Jesse Darling on digital spaces and trans identities.
54 Eastcastle St, W1W 8EF
Pilar Corrias made a name for itself showing experiential projects by the likes of Keren Cytter and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The gallery continues to identify strong emerging artists working in new media. This October, they’ll host New York-based Ian Cheng’s latest live simulations and bring Ken Okiishi’s new mp4 videos to Frieze.
H. Insider tip: Grab a coffee afterward in nearby coffee mecca Kaffeine (Fitzrovia, 15 Eastcastle St, W1T 3AY).
Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG
In a palatial Greek revival building, London’s oldest museum, established in 1753, offers a breadth of history that few institutions can match, thanks to its staggeringly rich collections. This autumn sees a landmark drawing exhibition, “Drawing in Silver and Gold,” which celebrates the delicate art of metalpoint.
5A Bloomsbury Square, WC1A 2TA
Dedicated to the study and celebration of Russian culture, Pushkin House will present an installation by Vladislav Efimov this October. It gently interrogates the relationship between the institution and Russian art and culture—which has in recent years implanted itself in London.
K. Sir John Soane’s Museum
13 Lincolns Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
Favorite of Dzek design production company founder Brent Dzekciorius, this former home of the 19th-century architect and collector Sir John Soane is preserved as it was at the time of his death. A museum with the feel of a mausoleum, it is especially atmospheric after dark, when they host popular twilight events.
L. 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair
Somerset House, South Wing, WC2R 1LA
Also capitalizing on the international art world’s temporary residence in London from October 15–18, 1:54 was founded to showcase the diversity of creative production emanating from the 54 countries that make up the African continent.
The Mall, SW1Y 5AH
This autumn, the eclectic institution hosts an exhibition organized by Fatos Ustek’s ambitious, roving curatorial project fig-2. It brings to the ICA London-based artist Prem Sahib’s “Side On,” which explores club space as a site of radical contingency.
Mayfair and Further West
The zenith of the London monopoly board, Mayfair is a byword for luxury, and the galleries in this most exclusive of London districts are suitably slick. Blue chip names proliferate, with international operations such as Gagosian (A & B), Hauser & Wirth (C), Sprueth Magers (D), and David Zwirner (E) all with premises in the neighborhood. This is a place to take the art market’s temperature.
24 Grafton Street, W1S 4EZ
Just a stone’s throw from the fabled grandeur of Berkeley Square, former home of Winston Churchill and Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce), this international mainstay presents a hotly anticipated show of Oscar Murillo this fall.
F. Insider tip: Inside high-fashion haven Dover Street Market, Rose Bakery (17-18 Dover Street, W1S 4LT) is a great place to grab a light lunch or homemade cake in fashionable company.
Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD
Distinguished from other museums and galleries by its organizational structure—it’s led by elected artist Academicians—Royal Academy of Arts exhibitions are always sumptuous in design and meticulously researched. Ai Weiwei’s large-scale installations currently fill the Academy’s grand halls.
6 Heddon Street, W1B 4BT
This gallery represents an impressive international roster, including Mary Kelly and Daniel Arsham, alongside younger artists like Luke Diiorio and Francesca DiMattio—who will show ceramic sculptures and paintings that disrupt traditional conceptions of femininity this autumn.
I. Insider tip: If pounding the pavements in pursuit of great art leaves you hungry, head to The Windmill pub (6-8 Mill Street, W1S 2AZ), known for the best pies in central London. A pint and a pie, what could be more London than that?
4 Hanover Square, W1S 1BP
Founded by the team behind Haunch of Venison, Harry Blain and Graham Southern brought many of their star artists to their new enterprise in 2010. A selection of Bill Viola’s early work, including the monumental installation Moving Stillness (Mt. Rainier) (1979), opens October 13.
45-47 Brook Street, W1K
L. Delfina Foundation
29-31 Catherine Place, SW1E 6DY
Opening the doors of its beautiful Georgian residence to artists and scholars, Delfina Foundation positions itself as a nexus of ideas, reflected in its vital exhibition and residency program.
Kensington Gardens, W2 3XA
Set within Hyde Park, the Serpentine’s Park Nights program has been a huge success, offering a platform to emerging artists to stage one-off projects in a temporary pavilion. That program ends October 18th, but the institution will continue to draw crowds with exhibitions by Jimmie Durham and this year’s Frieze Artist Award-winner, Rachel Rose.
Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL
Ask a Londoner about their favorite museum and more often than not they will mention the V&A. Unparalleled collections, innovative exhibitions, and a great café make this South Kensington mainstay a place to return to.
Insider tip: Brent Dzekciorius selects “The Fabric of India,” the first comprehensive U.K. exhibition on Indian textiles, as one of his must-see shows for the coming year.
15 Carlos Pl, W1K 2EX
5-8 Lower John St, W1F 9DY
East London’s art scene is relatively new, the result of artists taking advantage of the wealth of derelict buildings that resulted from the dock closures and slum clearances of the 1960s. The last 20 years have seen this colonization come to fruition in a diverse and experimental art scene often cast in counterpoint to that of the West End. Indeed, East London has so many progressive art spaces that they are divided into three sections here: North East; those located closer to the City of London, the financial district; and those further east, in Hackney.
North East London
A. Hollybush Gardens
1-2 Warner Yard, EC1R 5EY
Run by two inspiring women, this gallery, and neighbors Rokeby Gallery, put on great shows by a cohort of young and midcareer artists, like Falke Pisano and Johanna Billing, in the contemporary art desert of Clerkenwell.
B. Victoria Miro
16 Wharf Road, N1 7RW
One of the largest commercial spaces in London, Miro’s flagship gallery occupies a huge converted warehouse. The gallery’s prominent place in the London art scene was cemented with the opening of a Mayfair space in 2013. Acclaimed American artist Kara Walker will present two exhibitions at the gallery this year, the first of which, “Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First” is currently on view.
14 Wharf Road, N1 7RW
A hive of productivity, this nonprofit manages to stage four exhibitions per year, plus additional off-site shows and a bursting public program with a strong commitment to education. Currently on view is a group show, “The Gap: Selected Abstract Art from Belgium,” curated by celebrated Belgian painter Luc Tuymans.
D. Barbican Centre
Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
Embodying the modernist vision of “art for all,” The Barbican works across the major contemporary art forms: theater, dance, visual arts, music, and film. Don’t miss the appropriately themed “The World of Charles and Ray Eames,” which opens October 21.
The City and Whitechapel
77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX
Long before east London’s art scene gained momentum, there was the Whitechapel Gallery. Here, exhibitions are reliably brilliant; this autumn sees the first U.K. survey by the highly regarded Emily Jacir.
B. Insider tip: Whitechapel restaurant Tayyabs (83-89 Fieldgate E1 1JU) has locals queueing out the doors for their charcoal-grilled meat. Vanessa Carlos often heads there after Carlos/Ishikawa openings for hearty, reasonably priced Punjabi cuisine.
C. Raven Row
56 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS
Its premises is the result of a beautiful renovation by sought-after 6a Architects, this exhibition space, run by powerhouse Alex Sainsbury (who also chairs Whitechapel Gallery’s board of trustees), now hosts Belgian artist duo Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys.
D. Insider tip: A visit to Raven Row can be combined with a visit to historic Spitalfields Market (16 Horner Square E1 6EW).
27 Old Nichol Street, E2 7HR
Located close to the art and shopping nexus of Shoreditch’s Redchurch Street, Kate Macgarry represents artists ranging from B. Wurtz to Peter McDonald to Francis Upritchard and currently shows a film collaboration between Marcus Coates and dance artist Henry Montes.
F. Insider tip: Discount Suit Company (29A Wentworth Street, E1 7TB) serves well-priced, expertly made cocktails to Hackney’s arty crowd. Try to visit early evening, before it fills up with baying finance types.
Hackney and Bethnal Green
B. Maureen Paley
21 Herald Street, E2 6JT
Another east London pioneer, Maureen Paley has a large stable of primarily established artists, including those based locally and internationally. The gallery’s next show presents paintings by Michael Krebber, followed by an exhibition of works by Liam Gillick, which opens October 12.
C. Matt’s Gallery
42-44 Copperfield Road, E3 4RR
Founded in 1979, Matt’s Gallery sets itself apart by refusing to compromise for commercial gain. The space has long been a platform for pioneering installation art. On show until November 1 are paintings by Gerard Hemsworth, which play with the visual language of Modernism.
D. Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road, E3
A favorite of Vanessa Carlos (of Carlos/Ishikawa), Chisenhale Gallery is highly respected within London’s art community for balancing a challenging exhibition schedule with educational programming that fosters connections with the local community. The gallery often shows artists at pivotal points in their careers, such as the Berlin- and Jerusalem-based Jumana Manna, who has her first U.K. solo exhibition up now in the space through December 13.
E. Insider tip: Distilleries were a big part of the London landscape historically, and thanks to the revived interest in all things local and hand-made, they are back on the map. East London Liquor Company’s bar (Unit GF1 221 Grove Road, E3 5SN), just next door to Chisenhale, sells cocktails made using their own spirits.
270-276 Kingsland Road, E8 4DG
Located in the urban no-man’s-land of Haggerston, Seventeen represent artists working across a range of media (many of them incorporating video), but united by intellectual rigor.
G. Insider pick: Café Oto (18-22 Ashwin Street E8 3DL) offers something distinctive in the London music scene: eclectic programming, a great bar, and a relaxed atmosphere.
South London, which technically encompasses everything south of the Thames, is too diverse and sprawling to be bracketed as a district. Here, alternative spaces take root—artist-run efforts, co-operatives, and community-led projects—while the Tate Modern, home of the national collection of contemporary art, lends weight to the area.
A. Tate Modern
Bankside, SE1 9TG
As contemporary art evolves, so does Tate Modern. The gallery will soon unveil its new extension, set to better showcase large-scale installations and performance—two areas of artistic production that have gained prominence since the massive space, with its signature Turbine Hall, first opened its doors in 2000.
B. Insider tip: With ravishing views of the river and St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern member’s bar (same address as Tate Modern) is where Tate curators and art world luminaries kick back after a hard day. The book shelf with recent Tate publications is a great touch.
Installation view, "Agnes Martin" at Tate Modern. Courtesy Tate Modern.
144-152 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3TQ
White Cube Bermondsey occupies a sublime warehouse conversion. The work of architect Casper Mueller Kneer, it is austere, industrial, and enveloping. The deceptively large space was used to great effect in recent years by Theaster Gates, who hung a firetruck from the ceiling. Now conceptual artist Cerith Wyn Evans, gets his turn, with his spectral neon pieces hang in the voluminous galleries until November.
155 Vauxhall Street, SE11 5RH
Situated behind the Oval cricket ground, Gasworks recently reopened following a £2.1 million redevelopment. The nonprofit runs an international residency program enabling foreign artists to develop new work in London. First to show in the new space is South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere.
E. South London Gallery
65-67 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH
Locals may flock to South London Gallery for its fabulous cafe and restaurant, No67, but the art is certainly not to be overshadowed. October sees a new site-specific installation by Thea Djordjadze and a documentary-focused show by Heather and Ivan Morison.
F. The Sunday Painter
12-16 Blenheim Grove, SE15 4QL
One of many small galleries that have grown up around Peckham in the last few years, The Sunday Painter may represent just a handful of artists but their reputation is equal to that of a larger gallery.
G. Hannah Barry Gallery
4 Holly Grove, SE15 5DF
Around the corner from The Sunday Painter is one of the South London art scene’s leading lights. Hannah Barry’s eponymous space is widely known for inaugurating “Bold Tendencies” a program that transforms the Peckham multi-story car garage (H. 95A Rye Lane, SE15 4ST) into a sculpture park with a serious view.
H. Arcadia Missa
Unit 6 Bellenden Road, SE15 4RF
With a mission to support contemporary art “with intent,” Arcadia Missa pushes boundaries through an impressive spectrum of exhibitions, programming, publishing, international collaboration, and off-site projects. Don't miss Hannah Black’s show with the gallery, on view Oct. 3–31.
1A Nelsons Row, SW4 7JR
This plucky nonprofit was founded by a group of artists in the early 1990s and retains its artist-focused approach today. It provides studio spaces for established artists and recent graduates alike, as well as commissions work and stages exhibitions. from From Oct. 9–Dec. 6, Venezuelan, Berlin-based artist Sol Calero takes over the space for one of its most radical transformations yet.