London galleries: enjoy art in the capital

Giacometti Pure Presence exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery
Intense sculptures: visit Giacometti's Pure Presence exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery Credit: Tate London

As part of Experience London, MasterCard is bringing you the best in culture, music, food and art suggestions this winter.

Whether your taste is for the traditional or the ultra-modern, explore the must-visit galleries in the capital.

1. The British Museum

The first national public museum in the world was founded in London in 1753 by Sir Hans Sloane. He granted free admission to all “studious and curious persons” to see his collection of curios from around the world – in all more than 71,000 objects, including prints and drawings. Today the British Museum in Bloomsbury is the holder of the national collection of prints and drawings, with approximately 50,000 drawings and more than two million prints dating from the beginning of the 15th century up to the present day.

Interior of the British Museum Credit: Smithlandia Media

2. The National Gallery

The National Gallery was founded in April 1824, when Parliament paid £57,000 for 38 works of art collected by the banker, John Julius Angerstein. They were displayed at Angerstein’s house, number 100 Pall Mall, until a new building was built on Trafalgar Square and opened in 1838. Now the collection has more than 2,300 works, including showstoppers such as van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. At the moment there is also an exhibition of Francisco de Goya’s portraits, until January. Regarded as one of the last Old Masters and the first of the moderns, Goya’s paintings are technically brilliant - one not to be missed.

Goya Portraits exhibition at the National Gallery Credit: JUSTIN TALLIS

3. Tate Britain

In 1897 the Tate opened its doors, displaying a small collection of British artworks; now there are four galleries, with two of them in London: Tate Britain and Tate Modern. At Tate Britain, along with a permanent exhibition of British art from 1500 to the present day, there is an extraordinary and unique show of Frank Auberbach’s work. Regarded as one of our greatest living painters – this exhibition is in celebration of his 84th birthday – around 70 paintings and drawings from throughout his career will be on display until March next year.

Frank Auberback exhibition at Tate Britain

4. Tate Modern

The big exhibition on until January at Tate Modern is The World Goes Pop, which celebrates the international context of Pop Art – 160 works from Latin America to the Middle East. Instead of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, the exhibition delights in showcasing those left out of the art history narrative, including Ushio Shinohara’s “popped” versions of 19th-century Japanese prints.

The World Goes Pop exhibition at the Tate Modern Credit: REX Shutterstock

5. The Royal Academy

The current showstopper on the London art circuit is Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy. The exhibition, which starts in the courtyard of the Academy in Piccadilly with a forest of tree sculptures, showcases his work since 1993 - the year Ai returned to China after 12 years living in New York. Some of his sculptures included in the show are Surveillance Camera and Video Camera, made from marble, along with Straight, which was constructed out of 90 tonnes of steel rods collected from buildings damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, before being straightened by hand.

Al Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy Credit: Alex B. Huckle

6. The Serpentine Gallery

The Serpentine Gallery, a Grade II-listed former tea pavilion, was designed to be a place to show the work of emerging British artists and was opened in May 1970. Its winter exhibitions this year include Michael Craig-Martin at the Serpentine Gallery and Simon Denny at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery (designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate Zaha Hadid). Do pop to the excellent restaurant, Magazine while you’re there.

Michael Craig-Martin exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery Credit: Gagosian Gallery

7. The Barbican

Another modernist building,The Barbican, located in the heart of the City of London, has an excellent gallery (along with cinema and performance spaces; it is Europe’s largest multi-arts venue and conference centre), and is currently showing work by London-based artist Eddie Peake. Peake, who is much loved by the art world, works across the mediums of sculpture, live dance and video installations and sexuality and desire are constant strands of his work (this exhibition features nudity).

Eddie Peake exhibition at the The Barbican

8. The Foundling Museum

One of London’s smaller, but equally excellent museums, The Foundling Museum, has an exhibition devoted to The Fallen Woman until 3 January. The museum, which is a hidden gem dwarfed by the nearby British museum, explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery, and the exhibition will feature the work of Victorian artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Redgrave, and George Frederic Watts.

Fallen Woman exhibition at The Foundling Museum

9. The Whitechapel Gallery

The Whitechapel Gallery, which was founded in 1901 with the aim of bringing art to the people of east London, has had a long history of premiering important modern artists, from Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, in 1939 to Donald Judd, Cy Twombly. and Cindy Sherman in the 1980s and 90s. The gallery continues to celebrate emerging artists, highlights this season include the Palestinian multimedia artist Emily Jacir: Europa, whose works are political and poetic.

Emily Jacir exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery

10. The Serpentine Sackler Gallery

This is the first London show of the New Zealand artist Simon Denny’s work. Denny, who was New Zealand’s entry this year for the 65th Biennale in Venice, will have two large installations in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, a former 1805 gunpowder store; visitors will have to walk around and within to view the work. One installation will examine technology's role in our everyday lives - from the language of advertising and strategists - and the other will examine how large organisations, from the Government’s GCHQ to the tech giant Apple, mirror the physical space they inhabit.

Simon Denny exhibition at The Serpentine Gallery Credit: Pablo Enriquez

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