In a lot of ways, I feel quite privileged to have studied fine art in Sheffield: my three years spent there demonstrated to me the importance of seeing beyond the capital for amazing artist communities. Yet now that that chapter has closed, I am once again living on the edge of East London and wandering what this new location will bring.
London can sometimes seem very big and menacing; saturated with artists and possibly intimidating to fresh graduates, who really require the support network of smaller gallery spaces. With the majority of the country’s big name galleries dotted around London’s centre, locating the slightly more hidden art spaces can seem a bit of a mammoth task. With that in mind (and with an abundance of free time), I set myself the task of doing the leg work and learning more about the art scene on my own doorstep. Besides, where would be better to start looking than in East London?
The East End has seemingly undergone a transformation in recent years with several galleries – like the White Cube – relocating to more central locations. There does appear to be a question mark about how areas like Shoreditch – previously the playground of the YBAs, when they were in fact young – will evolve, especially as property prices increase. However, there is still a strong alternative gallery presence and a multitude of spaces to discover. Heading to Cambridge Heath (just a couple of stops on an overground train from Liverpool Street station) would be a good place to start and puts you in walking distance of a host of galleries between Bethnal Green and Aldgate.
That’s exactly what I did when setting out on my gallery search and (just to warn you) sometimes you do have to search. On an impulse, I made my way straight to Supplement Gallery – a short walk from the station on Teesdale Street – which I soon realized was in the middle of a whole terraced street of small galleries and artist work spaces. Another thing to note about many of the spaces in this vicinity is that they are only open Thursday-Sunday, with some open on Wednesdays. It so happened that this particular day was a Tuesday, so it was advantageous that I’d emailed ahead about my visit. Supplement has strong links to the Sheffield artist community and represents a group of already well established artists – their July show Ends Again looked excellently considered (Cecile B. Evans’ video work especially caught my attention) and sat well within the domestic-sized space and beautiful wooden floors.
From there (after being given an amazing list of galleries in the area by Supplement’s director Adam Thomas) I walked to Cell Project Space (Cambridge Heath Road). Set back from the main road and sandwiched between a snooker club and a dry cleaners, it would be easy to miss this gem. Their next viewable show opens on September 18th but they also have a passion for providing affordable studio space for artists working nearby. Furthermore, they also run a yearly internship program, aimed at new graduates and artists in further education.
My route then went as follows: I continued on to Minerva Street, where I found a rather silent matte black building front and an interesting solo show inside. I then carried on to Vyner Street which is lined with artist initiated galleries, Wilkinson Gallery and Vyner Street Gallery being examples. Next was The Approach Gallery – one of my favourite finds. The gallery space is actually the top floor of a pub, which makes an excellent resting point after a while of trundling around on an art adventure. Their current painterly exhibition runs until August 10th.
If you’d like to follow this same route and find yourself not fully satisfied at this point, you can make your way to Herald Street (nearer Bethnal Green station) where you will come across Herald Street Gallery, Laura Bartlett Gallery, Maureen Paley and Campoli Presti – all of which consistently boast fantastic shows. Mile End Road is home to Carlos Ishikawa – a space that plays host to young, experimental work. Another space that has become a personal favourite is Chisenhale Gallery, which you would find if you were to continue east from the Approach – I admire the way the gallery appears to completely transforms for each show it holds.
Back at Aldgate, there is of course the Whitechapel Gallery: my favourite thing about this well-established space is the Zilkha Auditorium, where they are currently showcasing artists’ film from around the world (their café is pretty delightful too). As you get closer to Shoreditch, you’ll also find smaller spaces like Raven Row, which is very near to Liverpool Street station. Their Yvonne Rainer retrospective is open until August 10th, with four dance performances happening daily.
Now, I would think that that’s quite enough gallery hunting for one day. Maybe we should go find some coffee.