• There are now so many contemporary art galleries in London’s charmingly rackety Fitzrovia, just south of the Frieze site, that it should be renamed “Friezerovia”. This guide starts with an overview of the area, followed by places to eat then a list of galleries in walking order. Click on the map below for a bigger version you can print out, or visit the associated Google Map.
About the area
Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, in the glory days of the YBAs, London’s West End was home to cutting edge galleries such as Karsten Schubert and Victoria Miro, but by the noughties rising prices had driven the emerging art scene Hackney-wards to Cambridge Heath. Such things move in cycles however, and despite the crowds that still gather there on First Thursday, the once-unmissable Vyner Street died as a credible art hub around the time of the 2009 crash. Although there are still several good galleries scattered throughout the eastern postcodes, critical mass has now returned with a vengeance to the West End.
At first, this manifested with gilt-edged galleries in the hedge fund heaven of Mayfair, but more recently there’s been a rush of edgier openings in Fitzrovia, the charmingly rackety rag trade/media haven lurking north of Oxford Street’s shonky eastern end. Plenty of publications have noted this new art district – for instance a shallow run-down by GQ, a much better piece by Spoonfed, and a local overview by Fitzrovia News. But none have given a comprehensive list of all the galleries on offer, or suggested a route for tackling them. Even Art Rabbit and the two free printed art maps – what I call the Orange One and the Blue One – don’t have comprehensive listings, and I had to refer to all three plus various press releases to compile this. And the 22 galleries here don’t even include the many print, illustration, graphics, street art, architecture and photography venues nearby – us art trawlers have to draw the line somewhere. My line is fairly rigorous, formal and conceptual – the kind of art shown at Frieze art fair and the Venice Biennale – although there are a few galleries showing more traditional skills-based and representational art in the list below as well. A clutch of big-name galleries in the area do actually show at Frieze, which is just a short walk north; indeed, chief among Fitzrovia’s attractions to gallerists, along with its relative cheapness, is that it’s handily close to squads of art-hunting billionaires once a year – but it’s equally handy for yachtless aesthetes all year round.
Oxford Circus and Goodge Street tubes are logical departure points for a Fitzrovia gallery walk. I’ve described a route commencing at Goodge Street then proceeding clockwise, but you could start and end anywhere, and go in either direction. Check with a listings guide or the gallery websites first to see what’s on, as not all galleries will be open on any given date. The area is small – a 15-minute trot from edge to edge – and the galleries are mainly small too, so barring lengthy video works, you could do it in half a day at a fair lick. More enjoyable would be to allocate a day, giving proper time to the works and blurbs (and, lets face it, there’s always at least one long time-based piece offering the chance of a sit-down), plus taking in pit stops and all the interesting architecture and shops along the way. Unlike Mayfair, Fitzrovia is flat and fairly traffic-free, with an understated buzz of creative work going on, rather than swarms of moneyed tourists ogling overpriced fashion. In fact, it’s one of the nicest bits of “secret” central London there is – and all the better now it’s awash with art. Maybe we’ll have to start calling it “Friezerovia”.
Places to eat (marked with knife and fork)
Even art needs sustenance, and Fitzrovia provides plenty. The area is full of cafes and restaurants from cheapo to high-end, but these three spots fall at natural break points. The walk starts along lively Goodge Street and Charlotte Street, where there’s a large variety of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s a good place to grab a pre-art coffee, or spot places to return to at day’s end. Most places get rammed at lunchtime and evenings, so it may be worth booking, especially for popular spots like the excellent Salt Yard tapas bar. Coming after a concentration of larger galleries, Market Place is another useful point for a break. There’s a concentration of eateries here – mainly chains, but it’s quieter and more characterful than nearby Oxford and Regent streets. A less obvious lunch spot further along is the cafe at RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD), where you can snack in grand modernist surroundings – they also have good architectural exhibitions and a bookshop. Or walk five minutes north up Cleveland Street to the Warren Street area, home to many reasonably-priced coffee bars and cafes – some groovy, some old school.
Galleries, walking clockwise from Goodge Street
37 Rathbone Street, London W1T 1NZ (entry also in Newman St)
• Large sleek gallery which occupies two floors and two roads – usefully, you can enter in Rathbone Street and exit into Newman Street (alternatively cut through quaint Newman Passage, not on Google Maps, to reach Newman Street). Specialises in Italian and international artists not previously known in the UK, with work that’s generally figurative and painterly rather than visually challenging.
74a Newman Street, London W1T 3DB
• Hip gallery showing the kind of international artists popular with curators, with work tending towards a particular kind of theatrical, self-referential conceptualism revolving around performance, film and photography.
6-18 Berners Street, London W1T 3LN
• One of the area’s big hitters, this double-height museum-style space opposite the classic 1960s Sanderson building mixes Frieze-friendly international artists with quirkier up-and-coming fare.
21 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DD
• Recently moved from Mayfair, this gallery offers some of the more traditional work in the area, showing mainly current and mid-20th century British artists working in a representational or formal vein.
22 Eastcastle street, London W1W 8DE
• One of the Fitzrovia crew that shows at Frieze, this offshoot of a Moscow gallery has a fascinating roster mainly from Russia, France and Germany, including high quality artists such as Pavel Pepperstein.
23/25 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DF
• AKA Stuart Shave/Modern Art, another of the Frieze regulars showing a must-see stellar stable including Karla Black, Nigel Cooke, Ansel Krut, Jonathan Meese, Eva Rothschild and many others, plus museum-quality curated group theme shows.
Carroll / Fletcher
56-57 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8EQ
• Brand new gallery with an amazing bunker-like concrete staircase to its basement and a refreshing line-up of conceptually-inclined young multimedia artists given plenty of space to express themselves, plus special commissions and collaborations.
54 Eastcastle St, London W1W 8EF
• Another of the Frieze club with some world-class artists, this ex-Lisson director hosts some of the best shows you’ll find in London, all in a modest-looking space that was actually designed by conceptual starchitect Rem Koolhaas.
Haunch of Venison
51 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8EB
• New Fitzrovia offshoot of the international gallery, founded by Harry Blain and Graham Southern but now owned by Christie’s, offering a similar range of high quality contemporary shows to Haunch’s larger Mayfair premises.
25 Margaret Street, London W1W 8RX
• Recently moved to this large space from west London, it’s a welcome chance to keep abreast of its serious yet stylish minimalist roster without a major trek in the opposite direction from most other worthwhile galleries.
3-4a Little Portland Street, London W1W 7JB
• One of Fitzrovia’s smaller art spaces, this rough-and-ready chamber really is like a slice of Hackney in the West End and shows an exciting selection of young emerging artists, sometimes fresh from their degree shows.
44-46 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EX
• Don’t be fooled by the small area viewable through the window – there’s a massive basement too. A pleasing space showing a variety of often quirkily representational international painters and sculptors.
59 Riding House Street, London W1W 7EG
• The green mosaic facade of this arts-and-crafts Fitzrovia landmark now fronts the handsome new incarnation of what used to be Shoreditch’s excellent Trolley gallery, whose new venture likewise showcases their publishing arm Trolley Books plus a selection of interesting emerging artists.
38 Langham Street, London W1W 7AR
• Co-founded by Ryan Gander’s ex-studio manager Alli Beddoes, this new gallery hosts a stable of young artists making approachable painting, sculpture and multimedia work, often with a representational slant.
England & Co (by appointment only)
90-92 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7NT
• Ex-Notting Hill stalwart known especially for intricate hand-crafted paper and book-based works plus a large stock of visually-accessible 20th and 21st century art. This “transitional” space is open only by appointment only, however.
Mummery + Schnelle
83 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 6RH
• It’s always worth visiting this rather reticent gallery, successor to Andrew Mummery’s Shoreditch eyrie in the Tea Building. As with that venture, it specialises in contemporary painting that, while often visually appealing, pushes the boundaries of the genre.
David Roberts Foundation
111 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 6RY
• Groovy metal-floored space curated by Vincent Honoré and showcasing the interests of wealthy collector David Roberts, this operates much like a project space and tends towards the severely conceptual – expect no pretty paintings here. There’s a bigger Camden space slated to open soon.
51 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JH
• A gallery oriented towards representational painting that specialises in themed group shows and the work of under-represented women artists, though they also show plenty of males including veteran abstractionist Frank Bowling.
Hanmi Gallery (opens fully Summer 2012)
30 Maple Street, London W1T 6HA
• New venture of a Korean gallery who also have a project space in Seoul. It’s due to open Summer 2012 but hosting occasional “interim” exhibitions while they undergo renovation, so there’s currently no need to make a detour unless there’s definitely something on.
Arup Phase 2
8 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 4BJ
• Bit of a wild card as Arup is actually a world-famed architectural engineering practice, but they also have this project space for work exploring “the connections between art, design and engineering” – the website’s not very forthcoming so it’s worth just popping in and asking if anything’s on.
89 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4PU
• More towards the illustrational / street art end of the art market than my remit here really accommodates, but it’s en route back to Goodge Street for a well-earned post-art drink, so there’s nothing to be lost by popping in…
And that’s it, though there will doubtless be still more galleries opening soon after I post this.