London Gallery Weekend is returning for a second time, as 150 galleries open their doors to display “what they have to offer the public”, according to co-director Sarah Rustin.
“It's the world's largest gallery weekend, since London has the biggest number of galleries,” says Rustin, who also works at Thaddaeus Ropac in Mayfair. “The idea is to draw in new communities, and to encourage those more familiar with the art world to expand beyond their gallery-going routines.”
The multi-venue event, which begins on Friday, offers curated routes by cultural figures such as the actress Naomie Harris and artists Jane and Louise Wilson. Highlights — including a commissioned performance by Mandy El-Sayegh, talks and family-friendly workshops — are aimed at attracting people from the art world and members of the general public.
The three days are split up according to area. Friday's activities will focus on Mayfair galleries, while Saturday is for South London venues and Sunday for those in the east. Galleries will be open every day but the events will help cluster traffic — and give insights into the character of each area’s venues.
While the more established Mayfair galleries are issuing cocktail invitations, the South London galleries have banded together to throw a party: when visiting the galleries, people simply ask for a wristband for later in the evening.
About 40,000 people participated in the first London Gallery Weekend, which took place in 2021, spread across 100 galleries, a figure that has now grown by 50 per cent.
“The weekend shows how resilient London's gallery landscape is,” Rustin says. “New galleries opened despite the pandemic and others have expanded, so in some respects there's been a growth moment for the arts scene in London.”
Recent additions include Addis Fine Art, whose main gallery is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the eponymous Niru Ratman Gallery, founded by the well-known London art figure.
A more international outlook
When it launched last year, the weekend was partially born from the post-Covid movement of rethinking the art world. The October Frieze fair in 2020, which anchors the art-world calendar, was cancelled in physical form, and the lack of travel focused attention on the local art scene. Typically competitive galleries banded together on a WhatsApp group to share information — and London Gallery Weekend emerged from these social discussions. It is keen to underline its peer-led ethos, as the steering committee — including Jeremy Esptein, the founder and co-director — all work at galleries, and have taken on much of the organisation on a voluntary basis.
“The first London Gallery Weekend highlighted the overlooked potential of the local, which came to light during lockdown, and really galvanised ambitions to expand the weekend's programme in its second year,” Rustin says. “Galleries had been so internationally focused.”
That local focus seems short lived, as London Gallery Week is already setting its sights on international reach. This year it launches a VIP and Friends programme for local and international collectors, which will include gallery tours, studio visits and events at collectors’ homes. In coming years, they hope to attract US collectors en route to Switzerland for Art Basel.
One reason for the popularity of the weekend has simply been that the sheer scale of London makes any single event seem unmanageable — and London Gallery Weekend, even with its tours, still feels intimidatingly large. But here are some shows featuring international artists not to miss.
Arcadia Missa: Melike Kara
Arcadia Missa, an agenda-setting gallery in South London, will show paintings by the German-Kurdish artist Melike Kara exploring Kurdish identity, traditions and rituals. The Rorschach test-like abstractions nod to the malleability of memory, while the use of motifs drawn from Kurdish tapestries open the door to craft traditions.
Niru Ratman: Kutlag Ataman
Over the past three decades, the Turkish-born Kutlag Ataman has figured a way to exist in the realms of filmmaking and as artist, experimenting with different modes of presenting images and narratives of identity and politics. This suite of works at Niru Ratman in Soho is part of his return to art-making after a multi-year hiatus.
Sadie Coles: Conversations on Tomorrow
The West End gallery — and mainstay of the London scene — Sadie Coles gives over its space to four of India’s most prominent galleries: Chemould Prescott Road, Experimenter, Jhaveri Contemporary and Vadehra Art Gallery. The galleries will show nine artists from the subcontinent and East Asia, including Radhika Khimji, who is currently showing at the Oman Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and the Lahore artist Ali Kazim.
Goodman Gallery: Ghada Amer
As art widens its parameters to take in craft traditions, on the one hand, and plant and living material on the other, the Egyptian-American artist Ghada Amer moves ever closer to a grande dame position: she has been working with embroidery and living ecologies for more than 20 years. This will be her first London show, at Goodman in Mayfair, since 2002, showing paintings of stitched texts from feminist criticism, and outlined sculptures of women.
Harlesden High Street: Hawazin Al-Otaibi
Tackling questions of masculinity in the Arab world is Saudi-American Hawazin Al-Otaibi. Al-Otaibi, who studied and lives in London, presents a new painting series called Softboi. Launching at the north-west London gallery Harlesden High Street, the airbrushed images show figures — and the clothes that signal their identity — on the verge of legibility.