A big bird and two top galleries in London

by Margaret Barca

It’s big, it’s blue… it’s a bird. And, on the so-called Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in front of London’s National Gallery, it’s a tangible reminder that contemporary art is alive and well in the capital.

For more than one hundred and fifty years that plinth stood empty, then in the late 1990s, the powers that be (london.gov.uk) agreed that contemporary sculpture would be commissioned and displayed here on a temporary basis. The current exhibit – a bright blue cockerel, officially Hahn/Cock or the ‘blue cock’ – created by German artist Katharina Fritsch will be standing proudly there until mid 2014. The next commission will be announced in March.

While you are thinking contemporary, there are two galleries (or strictly speaking, three) to add to your London to-do list.

Saatchi Gallery

Though better known to some as the former husband of Nigella Lawson than the artoholic he claims to be, Charles Saatchi’s eponymous gallery and his wealthy art collecting habits have played an influential role in the evolution of contemporary British art, or at least how it is viewed.

Saatchi Gallery is wonderfully grand – very London, actually – and like London’s public galleries, it is free to enter. It occupies a fabulous building, the Duke of York’s HQ, with columned portico and parade-ground green in front, in the Kings Road, Chelsea. The generous spaces are a foil to curated exhibitions of contemporary art by young British artists with little profile, or international artists who are not well known in the UK.

Some of these artists have gone on to show and exhibit with major galleries and to build stellar reputations. Check the website for current exhibitions (though if you are in London over spring/summer, Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America sounds fascinating and typical of the ‘adventurous curatorial ambition’ Saatchi promotes.

And if you enjoy going beyond the standard tourist to-do’s, the gallery has some excellent talks and events, including Sunday’s ‘Saatchi Salons’ from 2pm–4pm (there is a fee and you need to book ahead).

You’re near Sloane Square and the King’s Road, so plenty of places for a pre or post exhibition drink/snack, though it’s hard to beat the gallery’s stylish Mess Restaurant Bar & Café, especially in the summer when it spills outside.

My name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic (Phaidon, London, 2009) is a small but lively book worth dipping in to.

There are some beautiful self catering apartments in the area around the Saatchi Gallery, click this link to view

Saatchi Gallery
Kings Road, Chelsea
Open daily 10am–6pm


Serpentine Galleries

The original Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens has been a showcase for contemporary art and architecture for more than four decades, showing both emerging British and internationally renowned artists. Now, there’s a second gallery, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, a few minutes’ stroll away across the Serpentine Bridge. The new gallery occupies an 1805 former powder magazine, converted by Zaha Hadid Architects, that melds a sweeping, sculptural roof with a classical façade. It’s a new cultural destination for Londoners, with four exhibitions a year planned (watch for designer Martino Gamber’s Design is a State of Mind, March–April 2014). Both galleries are free.

Not to be missed over spring/summer is the Serpentine’s annual Pavilion, with a temporary pavilion designed each year by an international architect (past architects include Frank Gehry and Oscar Niemeyer). Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto’s 2013 ‘Cloud Pavilion’ was a whimsical white structure of delicacy and delight (with a café inside).

Ask about the audio walks too. You can download (to your mobile) one of 12 specially commissioned audios that run for the time it takes to walk from one gallery to the other.
Brilliant idea, amazing stories.

And leave time to wander around possibly the best art bookshop in London, Koenig Books.

Serpentine Galleries gives a walk in the park a whole other dimension.

Serpentine Galleries
Kensington Park
Open Tues-Sun 10am– 6pm


Photo of the serpentine sacker gallery © 2013 Luke Hayes
Photo of the Cloud Pavilion, Sou Fujimoto Architects, Photo © 2013 Iwan Baan

Tags for this post
trafalgar | square | gallery | mess | saatchi | serpentine