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Guest post: A guide to art galleries in East London

If there’s one thing that East London has in abundance, it’s art galleries. With well over 100 to choose from, there are enough to keep ardent art lovers going for years.

The fantastic First Thursdays initiative offers a wonderful way to dip your toe into East London’s art scene for free, but if you’re just looking to amble along to a couple after work or while on a short break in London, here’s a brief introduction to some of the best.

Barbican, Silk Street, EC2
Okay, so everyone knows about the Barbican, but it would feel a little strange talking about galleries in East London without mentioning it. This is the place to go if you want to see works by huge international artists before taking in a film, concert or dance performance – it really is a great all-round arts venue.

Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel High Street, E1
Another big player, Whitechapel Gallery is the organiser of the aforementioned First Thursdays scheme and also awards the well-respected Max Mara Art Prize for Women. Lots of big names have exhibited here and the venue holds many fascinating talks, workshops, children’s events and more throughout the year.

Chisenhale Gallery, Chisenhale Road, E3
You might come across the next big thing if you visit Chisenhale Gallery. This vibrant space housed in a converted 1930s factory prides itself on hosting exhibitions highlighting the work of new artists. Look out for displays of art by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Amalia Pica later this year.

Limehouse Gallery, Docklands, E14
Limehouse Gallery provides the opportunity to see some quite frankly amazing bronze sculptures right next to where they were made. Sharing a site with the Bronze Age Sculpture Foundry, the venue showcases works by artists in the UK and the rest of Europe. It also occasionally exhibits paintings, stone carvings and art in other media.

Viktor Wynd Fine Art, Mare Street, E8
Now for something completely different. Quirky, delightful and sometimes shocking, the exhibitions at Viktor Wynd Fine Art aim to promote an eclectic range of artists – upcoming events include an ancient Egypt-inspired display of work by James Putnam and an exhibition relating to the late Sebastian Horsley, who once attempted a crucifixion to inspire his painting. Viktor Wynd himself is an artist who helps run The Last Tuesday Society, which holds spectacular balls and parties, as well as lectures delving into all kinds of weird and wonderful subjects.

Wapping Project, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, E1
The setting of this arts centre is just as fascinating as the exhibitions it holds. The Wapping Project has preserved much of the interiors of the original 19th-century power station it’s housed in, treating visitors to chains, pipes, brick walls and other industrial features against which all kinds of art are displayed. A restaurant and bar can also be found onsite, so this could be a great destination for a full day out in East London.

Matt’s Gallery, Copperfield Road, E3
The well-respected Matt’s Gallery has a reputation for commissioning installations that go on to achieve considerable fame. Perhaps the best known of these is the engine oil-soaked 20:50 by Richard Wilson, which is the Saatchi Gallery’s only permanent installation. The gallery is a definite must-visit for art that really makes you think.

Vyner Street Gallery, Vyner Street, E2
Vyner Street Gallery is another venue ideal for discovering new talent. Specialising in student and graduate exhibitions, this is perfect for seeing what the cutting edge of contemporary art looks like. Who knows? You might end up purchasing an artwork that’s worth a small fortune in a few years’ time!

This is just a handful of the wonderful art galleries you can visit in East London. Post your recommendations in the comments below.

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Who’s battling here? Some thoughts on the Barbican’s Australian Film Festival

Australian expats love it when the annual Aussie Film Festival at the Barbican rolls around. It’s a chance to escape home for an hour or two, eat Cherry Ripes and Burger Rings and lurk in the foyer, sneaking glances at the Aussie celebs that sometimes turn up. Plus you almost always bump into someone you know.

This year I only saw two films, Bran Nue Dae and Beautiful Kate. And I was enchanted and disappointed in equal measures. Let’s start with Bran Nue Dae. It’s a musical and tells the story of a young Aboriginal man who leaves boarding school to travel back to his hometown of Broome. It addresses racism, homelessness, displacement, alcohol abuse and incarceration… and it’s funny. Really, laugh-out-loud funny. Joyful music, over-the-top acting… you leave feeling optimistic about life.

Here’s a trailer. Hopefully it will at least get a DVD release here so you can see it for yourself. It’s perfect Friday-night-at-the-end-of-a-long-week viewing.

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Time for a bit of Aussie sunshine

For homesick Aussies out there, or anyone just wanting a dose of sunshine as winter trudges its way out the door, don’t miss the annual Australian Film Festival at the Barbican. This year they’ve put on a programme with a few oldies such as My Brilliant Career and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, along with the new releases – now is the chance to preview films that won’t be on general release in the UK until much later. It’s also a good chance to stock up on Cherry Ripes and Burger Rings, and take in the charged atmosphere in the foyer as people bump into neighbours, exes and old flatmates, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. 

Tropfest is also on – a short film festival that is screened around Australia for free – and it’s free at the Barbican too, although you need to book quickly. I’m also looking forward to Rhian Skirving’s documentary Rock n Roll Nerd about her friend Tim Minchin, a comedian and musician who has performed widely in the UK; he’s back over here in September and October 2009. Essential viewing for any aspiring stand-ups out there. 

Book tickets and find out more at http://www.barbican.org.uk/australianfilm/whats-on

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Le Corbusier at the Barbican


The Barbican – does any other London landmark divide visitors more dramatically? – is hosting Le Corbusier – The Art of Architecture until May 24 2009.

As usual, just finding the exhibition is a vintage Barbican experience – it’s badly sign-posted, the lifts have their own set of rules and the vast estate is almost deserted, despite its central location. The only people you pass on the windy terraces and dark walkways are bewildered souls anxious to find the centre before their performance starts. It’s all a bit post-apocalyptic until you eventually reach the buzzing foyer, which is full of people necking wine and chatting on the red leather benches and trying to find the loo before their show starts. 

Tip: If you do visit the Barbican in the future, just follow the yellow line painted along those dark, endless walkways (it really is a yellow brick road) – and you’ll get to there eventually.

Le Corbusier, according the exhibition brochure, was the most important architect of the 20th century, his built legacy unparalleled. The Barbican is the logical place to host such an exhibition – he would have felt right at home among the concrete walkways and looming tower blocks. 


Scattered among his many drawings, sculptures and models are some original, now rather tatty, prototypes – chairs and even an entire kitchen from an apartment block he designed in Marseille. I liked the postcards he’d sent from hotel rooms around the world, and snapshots of him at work. There is even one of him with Albert Einstein at Princeton, both of them looking quietly chuffed.


There is a wooden model of his beautiful church in Ronchamp, which I have visited and will never forget. In real life it’s much larger than it looks in pictures, with a roof that’s based on the form of a crab shell. Built from concrete, it has stained-glass windows that reflect watery blue-green lights across the curved walls. It’s a little like being in an vast underwater cave,  and very peaceful. If you’re ever in the Alsace region of France it’s worth a visit – you can also drink lots of Riesling and overdose on Münster cheese, but beware of ticks.  The only unfortunate part of the journey was that one of our party was bitten by a one carrying Lyme’s Disease and ended up seriously unwell. But I think even he would agree it was worth it.


Anyway – slight digression. This exhibition is worth visiting if you are at all interested in architecture and design. You are left with a clear sense of just how influential his work – and that of his many colleagues – was. His designs look modern now – its incredible  to think he was producing this work close to a hundred years ago.

It does seem, though, that there is something missing. For an exhibition about a single person it is a little starved of biographical detail, and I would  have liked more about his private life, the person behind the image. Perhaps he lived almost entirely for his work, which enabled him to be so prolific and influential. Or perhaps the curators just didn’t think his personal life was relevant. And it is also strange that the exhibition does not address the end of his life at all, and his death by drowning. You move from some of his later drawings straight into the shop and bar area, where you can buy a Le Corbusier vodka cocktail, or some £200 Corbusier-inspired spectacles. After following the story of his life’s work this felt – to me, anyway – a little abrupt.

 Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture, 19 February – 24 May 2009-02-28, The Barbican Centre Art Gallery, http://www.barbican.org.uk/lecorbusier

corb-drawingsPhotography: Felix Oefelein ©




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