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30 reasons why London rules the art world

From the Turbine Hall to public transport, art is huge in London, not to mention better than anywhere else on the planet. Time Out's Art team have some totally convincing reasons and amazing facts to prove it

By Martin Coomer
Grayson Perry, V4 edit
© Rob Greig

1. We’re royally good at it

You can keep your French impressionists, your Italian futurists and your American abstract expressionists because the London art scene has an infectious energy that is hard to beat. Seriously, the capital is a mecca for the planet’s art fans and it’s all down to our regal art stars: Peter Blake, Howard Hodgkin, Bridget Riley. Or how about Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and Sarah Lucas? Or even our Old Masters, like JMW Turner – box-office gold almost a quarter of a millennium after he first breathed the rancid Covent Garden air.

2. And here’s a crown to prove it

This exquisite ecclesiastical headpiece is a star of the bling-tastic (and free to enter) ‘What is Luxury?’ show at the V&A. Oh, it’s Portuguese? Well, that just goes to show we loot the finest booty, too.

Read more about What is Luxury?


3.  We’ve got the V&A

We're never less than awed by the vanloads of artefacts in our very amazing V&A. It's the royal gift that keeps on giving. Be sure to check out the awesome new Europe 1600-1800 galleries opening in May.

Read more about the V&A

Tate Modern

4. And Tate Modern is totally mega...

Tate Modern is the best art museum in the world, and everyone agrees. With 4.8 million people through the doors last year, it’s the most visited institution of its type. Tate also has the most Twitter followers (1.1 million) and members (112,000) of any museum or gallery in Europe. It'll be an even bigger deal when its incredible new extension opens in 2016.

Read more about Tate Modern
Turbine Hall
© Tate Photography

5. ... with the biggest exhibition space

Two words: Turbine Hall. We’ve worshipped an endless sun, lost ourselves in a big black box and studied a massive crack in Tate Modern’s 152m-long cathedral of art over the years. Next up is Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. For his previous London show, the fortysomething conceptualist channelled the spirit of punk, creating something akin to an explosion in a junkyard. We can’t wait to get wrecked again this October.

Read more about The Hyundai Commission: Abraham Cruzvillegas at Tate Modern.

Ushio Shinohara, 'Doll Festival', 1966
© Tokyo Gallery+BTAP

6. And the whole thing is about to go pop

'The World Goes Pop’ is Tate Modern’s blockbuster autumn opening, looking at pop art’s epic journey round the world and revealing how the phenomenon entranced artists from Latin America to the Middle East. Featuring 200 pivotal works from the 1960s and ’70s, it’ll be the most explosive show of the year.

Read more about 'The World Goes Pop'
Richard Hamilton, 'Interior II', 1964
© The estate of Richard Hamilton

7. Oh, by the way. Pop art – we invented that

Before Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Roy Lichtenstein’s pilfered cartoons there was the original pop star Richard Hamilton. The influence of London’s greatest conceptual artist remains strong. No Hamilton, no Jeff Koons. No Hamilton, no Damien Hirst. Not bad for a lad from Pimlico. You can pop in to see his ‘Interior’ (1964-’65) at Tate Britain.

Fourth Plinth, Hans Haacke
© James O Jenkins

8. Then there’s the Fourth Plinth

You’re on the bus, gliding past Trafalgar Square, when a big blue cock hoves into view. Or a giant golden kid on a rocking horse. And it brightens up your day. If Hans Haacke’s riderless, skeletal horse (the Plinth’s next commission, above) doesn’t scream ‘excitement’, there’s always David Shrigley’s very big thumb to look forward to in 2016. 

Check out our guide to London's best outdoor art

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
© Linda Nylind

9.  And the new ‘balloon room’

Remember the static, the fluff and the delighted squeals of Martin Creed’s magical room stuffed with large white balloons at his 2014 Hayward Gallery show? Well, brace yourself, because the big show at the Hayward this summer is by none other than Carsten Höller, who put those tubular thrill-ride slides into Tate Modern in 2006. It’s the last show at the gallery before it closes for renovation, so we’re expecting the man who puts the art in participation to really let rip with something fun, flirty and hands-on.

Read more about Carsten Höller at Hayward Gallery

Watch It art gallery
© Watch It

10. You can pitch up to someone’s spare room

Swanky showrooms? Nah, a rented house in South Woodford will do. Art school graduates Andrew Munks and Sophie Michael have turned their spare room into ‘Watch It’ – a gallery for anyone who wants to put on an exhibition. Check the website for shows but phone before you go: they might still be in bed.


YBA town planning

11. Our town planners are YBAs

Remember that guy who took a chainsaw to dead animals and used to get his knob out at parties? Damien Hirst is now one of art’s elder statesmen, and he’s got designs on our neighbourhoods. This May, the most famous of the Young British Artists (YBAs) returns with his Newport Street gallery – a terrace of Vauxhall buildings transformed into an entire street of art. Hirst will fill the space with his own work and also art from his 2,000-strong collection, including pieces by Banksy and Francis Bacon – a better sight than his own chipolata.

Sam Taylor-Johnson

12. And Hollywood’s best directors are YBAs

Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Johnson… our leading auteurs are arty types, whose formative years were spent drinking in the bar of Goldsmiths College.

© Sarah Lucas

13. And they’re storming the art Olympics

The Venice Biennale is where countries pit their best artists against each other – a Hunger Games of beard-stroking if you will – and we always blow the competition out of the water. This year, we have Holloway’s own Sarah Lucas storming up the Grand Canal to fit out the British Pavilion with her beautifully bawdy sculptures, inspired by a lexicon of late-night urban revelry. Forget Bellinis at Harry’s Bar, this summer we’ll be saluting our Golden Lion win with warm lager and a kebab.

This year's Venice Biennale runs from May 9 – Nov 22 2015

14. You can walk through our art…

Such as ‘Backdoor Pipeline’, the 15m-long steel tunnel by US sculptor Richard Serra, currently at King’s Cross’s Gagosian Gallery. Think of it as a heavy-metal re-birthing canal from which you emerge in a different state of mind – and, quite possibly, a different postcode.

Read more about Gagosian Gallery

Richard Wilson-20.50-DoY.jpg

15. Or walk into it…

Ahh, the whiff of sump in the morning. There’s really nothing quite like Richard Wilson’s sublime ‘20:50’ installation – a lake of reflective oil within a room at the Saatchi Gallery.

Read more about the Saatchi Gallery

16. Or skate on it…

Whether you glide like Torvill and Dean or scramble like Bambi, you’ll need to strap on skates and take to the ice to see the art in Ruth Proctor’s cool installation of photo and sculptures at this Finsbury Park space. The idea is that you’re as much on show as the art you’re viewing. Singing Frozen's ‘Let it Go’ as you do is optional.

Read more about Ruth Proctor: Still Not Fixed


17. You don’t even have to get off the tube to see it

Cindy Sherman, Gary Hume, Cornelia Parker: in its 15-year history, Art on the Tube has invited some top names to reimagine its maps and posters. When you spend as much time on public transport as we do, it’s good to know that the world’s best artists are on board (not literally, obviously, they don’t take the tube). Look out at Gloucester Road for Trevor Paglen's 'An English Landscape'.



19. We’re shocking (also in a good way)

Loved ones. What do you do when the inevitable happens? Write a touching eulogy? Or have your dear relative’s skull crushed into particles small enough to fit into a 3D printer and use the powder to make an accurate replica of your own skull (right)? If you’re Lee Wagstaff, it’s the latter. Look out for the end product in Wagstaff’s awesome show ‘The Last Adam’, which will be held during Frieze in October. London artists: such a head for scandal.


The Studio of Hanne Darboven in Hamburg Harburg, Germany
Rainer Bolliger

20. In fact, we’re obsessed

Spring-cleaning is for philistines. The Barbican’s blockbuster show ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ will prove that it’s cool to be a hoarder. Showcasing 14 artists’ collections including Martin Parr’s Soviet space dog memorabilia and Andy Warhol’s prized kitsch cookie jars, the show will be a veritable cornucopia of all things eccentric, rare and curious.

Read more about Magnificent Obsessions

© Rob Greig

21. We’re nicer than NYC

Super-collector Anita Zabludowicz doesn’t like to talk money, but the Newcastle-born north Londoner has spent millions on art over the past two decades. Much of it is by London artists (more than a quarter of her 500-strong collection is by Brits), and you can see it for nothing in shows at the Zabludowicz Collection, which is housed in a remarkable former chapel in Chalk Farm. It’s creating good karma Manhattan can only dream of.

Read more about 20 Years of Collecting

© Rob Greig

22. We’re cooler than Berlin

Smiley and self-effacing, Vanessa Carlos is not what you’d expect of one of the most in-demand art dealers on the planet, yet hers is the gallery every young artist wants to show with and every scenester needs to be seen at. If you want to know what the most talked about art in 2015 looks like, forget Mitte and make her Mile End Road space your first port of call.

Read more about Carlo/Ishikawa gallery

© Rob Greig

23. And we’re more fragrant than Paris

Yes, perfume can be art. RA Schools grad Adham Faramawy has created a scent to be sold online which is designed to make you think of an imaginary pop star called Hatsume Miku. Confusing? Yes, a little bit. Cool? Definitely. Faramawy’s other works  are often sexy – like the gold nugget-like monochrome above – and sometimes slimy, but we’d take his London gunge over a dip in the Seine any day of the week.


24. We’re a bustling art market

Our rainy old town is perfectly placed between the economic powerhouses of Russia, China and the US, making it the place for the super-rich to go shopping for their masterpieces. Last October, for example, £1.4 billion worth of art went on show in the big tents of Frieze London and Frieze Masters (think of these mega-fairs as the classiest and most expensive car boot you’ll ever visit) drawing Jay Z, Beyoncé and a bunch of way less photogenic high-net-worth individuals magpie-like to the capital.


25. We’ve got your Monets

'Le Grand Canal’ (1908) by Claude Monet was one of the impressionist masterpieces sold at Sotheby’s on Tuesday February 3. Estimates started at $30 million. Bargain.

26. Your Banksies

'Flower Thrower’ by Banksy was up for grabs at Bonhams back on Wednesday January 28 and sold for £435,000.


27. And we're saving up for this

A proper Renaissance frame for Titian’s ‘An Allegory of Prudence’, (c1550) at the National Gallery. You can contribute via

Ai Weiwei Portrait
© Ai Weiwei; portrait: Gao Yuan

28. We foster free spirits

Being made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts probably wasn’t the most memorable thing that happened to Ai Weiwei (above) in 2011 – this, after all, was the year he was detained by the Chinese authorities and barred from leaving China. But it’s symbolic of our commitment to free speech. The RA is following up the gesture with a full-scale retrospective of the Chinese superstar – and Ai’s promised to open the show himself, if he gets his passport back.

Read more about Ai Weiwei at the RA


29. We look after our own

Who said the YBAs were only in it for themselves? Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Steve McQueen are among the stars who donate their work to charity auctions. Money raised goes to help the next generation of Goldsmiths artists by funding a new gallery and research centre at the south London powerhouse of Brit-art.

30. And we don’t give up

Because we are art to our core. Need proof? Then look no further than Britain’s greatest living painter, Frank Auerbach. The 83-year-old has lived and worked in the same corner of north London since 1954, working seven days a week (he takes one day off a year) on paintings of his closest friends and familiar stretches of Camden Town. He’s living proof that, while art can be about setting the world alight, it’s also about discovering yourself in your own particular corner of London. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

See this week's best art

Unmissable art this week


With an art scene as changeable as London's, how can you ever keep track of what to see right now? By using this page, that's how. These are the new openings the Time Out Art team thinks are worth seeing. If you'd prefer to see something we already know is good, try our list of London's top ten art exhibitions.


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