A Guide to London’s Thriving Contemporary Gallery Scene

By Shira Wolfe

London is one of the major art metropolises in the world. But it wasn’t always the king of contemporary art. Up until the 1970s, the general public did not resonate with contemporary art – you could go as far as to say there was an aversion to contemporary art in England. The National Gallery and Tate Britain showed a collection of “British Art” and “modern foreign painting”. There were barely any commercial galleries in London selling contemporary art back then, but by the mid-nineties, this had all changed.

Britain’s changing economy, London’s rapid development, and a new generation of artists contributed to a transformation of taste and a new outlook on contemporary art. The rise of the Young British Artists (YBAs) in the late ’80s/ early ’90s totally transformed London’s art scene and made British contemporary art world-renowned. Following this, the opening of the Tate Modern in 2000 and the addition of international contemporary art fair Frieze in 2003 helped turn London into one of the most important contemporary art hubs worldwide.

Today, London’s contemporary art galleries are important, cutting-edge and plentiful. Our selection of top galleries each add their own colour to London’s art scene. And while you’re at it, Frieze Art Fair is on in London from 4 – 7 October. Expect the best of international contemporary art, both by established and emerging artists, and a program of newly commissioned artworks, films and talks.

Sadie Coles HQ 

Detail of Alvaro Barrington’s Untitled 2018 at Sadie Coles Frieze booth – Photo: Sadie Coles Instagram

Sadie Coles HQ represents big names like Ugo Rondinone, John Currin and Elizabeth Peyton, along with a whole host of established and emerging international artists. The gallery was important for the Young British Artists movement, and has represented YBA Sarah Lucas since its foundation. The gallery’s founder Sadie Coles looks for artists who are pushing boundaries, making us think and showing us something new. Sadie Coles HQ is a dynamic gallery with strong interests in staging off-site shows in London and abroad.

Currently on view at the gallery are: Martine Syms’s Grand Calme, Paul Anthony Harford, and Jordan Wolfson’s The Crisis and Untitled.

62 Kingly Street
London W1B 5QN
Tues – Sat 11 am – 6 pm

1 Davies Street
London W1K 3DB
Tues – Sat 11 am – 6 pm

Website: Sadie Coles HQ

Alison Jacques

Sheila Hicks’ Asclepion, 2018 at Alison Jacques Frieze booth – Photo: Alison Jacques Gallery

Alison Jacques Gallery, opened in 2004, is now located in a beautiful, high-ceilinged space in Fitzrovia. The gallery represents important estates and foundations, among which are Birgit Jürgenssen, Ana Mendieta, Robert Mapplethorpe, Dorothea Tanning, and Hannah Wilke. Also represented are living artists including Juergen Teller and Dan Fischer.

Founder Alison Jacques runs an exhibition program featuring both unknown and established artists, and often hosts events and talks with important curators and critics.

Currently on at Alison Jacques Gallery is a show by Hannah Wilke, regarded as one of the most prominent feminist artists.

16-18 Berners Street
London W1T 3LN

Website: Alison Jacques Gallery

Modern Art

Forrest Bess’ Untitled (Pink Moon) – Photo: Modern Art Website

Stuart Shave’s Modern Art gallery is housed in an impressive converted 5000 sq ft pre-war factory building in Central London’s Clerkenwell area. Modern Art opened a second space in 2017, in a 6000 sq ft gallery in London’s East End. The aim has always been to host a diverse international program, and this can be seen in the artists represented by the gallery (Julien Nguyen, Jacqueline Humphries, Bojan Šarčević, to name but a few) and the gallery’s yearly participation in important art fairs around the world.

Currently on: Forrest Bess at the Helmet Row location and Jacqueline Humphries at the Vyner Street location.

4-8 Helmet Row, London EC1V 3QJ
Wednesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm

50-58 Vyner Street, London E2 9DQ
Wednesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm

Website: Modern Art

The Approach

Caitlin Keogh’s The Cat, 2018 – Photo: The Approach London

Located above a pub in London’s Bethnal Green, a visit to The Approach promises to be a fun little adventure. The gallery started out as a place to exhibit London-based artists at the start of their careers. Eventually, it became a more international space for emerging and established artists. The space is pretty legendary by now, having shown or been involved with many major artists (Peter Doig was even a guest curator for a show in the gallery’s first year).

This month, visitors can enjoy Caitlin Keogh’s debut solo exhibition Alphabet and Daggers in London. Also on view is Sara Cwynar’s film Rose Gold.

1st Floor, 47 Approach Road
Bethnal Green, London E2 9LY

Website: The Approach


Justin Fitzpatrick Taxi Terminus Entrance, 2018 – Photo: Seventeen Gallery website

Seventeen Gallery specialises in video art and currently represents 14 artists, among whom are Gabriele Beveridge, Susan Collis, Rhys Coren, Justin Fitzpatrick, Patrick Goddard and Gabriel Hartley. Seventeen founder Dave Hoyland is famous for showing artists in his gallery before they get really huge. And where does he meet his artists? Mostly in the pub, he says.

Current shows at the gallery: Gabriel Hartley – Landscapes and the group show Landscapes.

270-276 Kingsland Road
E8 4DG London 

Website: Seventeen 

Josh Lilley

Kathleen Ryan Fountain of Youth, 2018 – Photo: Josh Lilley website

Josh Lilley Gallery focuses on gallery artist shows and discourse-oriented group exhibitions. Representing up-and-coming and mid-career artists, you’ll see familiar names like Tom Anholt and Sara Dwyer among their list of artists. Stop by the gallery to experience the mesmerising Kathleen Ryan exhibition Seven Sculptures at Sunset.

44 – 46 Riding House Street
London W1W 7EX

Website: Josh Lilley 

 Enjoy submersing yourself into London’s gallery heaven!