Saturday, 22 January 2011

London's Best Museums and Galleries

London has great museums and galleries, but not all recommended in guide books are worth a visit. I have listed some of my favourites here - do explore as much as you can! Most museums are free and open also on Mondays. Click on the bold text for more information.

Wellcome Collection - The venue is the world's largest independent charitable foundation funding research into human and animal health. The excellent permanent exhibition explores the connections between medicine, life and death. The items on display include Napoleon's toothbrush, Japanese sex toys, anti-masturbation devices, centuries-old surgeons' tools, amulets and a selection of tattoos on human skin. The collection is for the incurably curious.

Design Museum - The museum (above) has a constant stream of well-curated exhibitions that range from fashion to architecture. It also hosts design awards and other important design-related events. The museum's historic location itself by the river Thames is worth seeing. The excellent shop offers great gifts and deals.

100% Design - An annual international design event that takes place each September. For those who love architecture and interior design, this is a must. Different venues across London.

Glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, at the V&A

Victoria and Albert Museum - The Queen, her Prince and the agents of The Empire certainly succeeded in stealing, sorry, acquiring thousands of very beautiful objects throughout the world. I recommend the Silver and the new bright Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook is also on display, written in mirror image to protect his thoughts and ideas from the prying eyes.

Courtauld Galley - The permanent collection, ranging from the early Renaissance to Modernist works, is impressive. The list of artists and the quality of work is almost embarassing: Botticelli, Cranach, Rubens, Van Dyke, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Gainsborough, Goya, Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Gauguin, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Matisse, Kokoschka, Derain, Kandinsky, etc. The small special exhibitions on the top floor are intelligently curated.

Flow Gallery - A good gallery for the high-end craft and applied arts lovers.

Michael Hoppen Gallery - the best photography gallery in London. I have just seen the works of Ellen von Unwerth and Valérie Belin there. Outstanding stuff. 

Origin, Contemporary Craft Fair - An annual two-week craft fair in September. Beautiful objects, jewellery, furniture and textiles. A feast for the eye, but quite detrimental to the bank account.

White Cube - The two galleries (above), one in über trendy Hoxton and the other in top-hat & tails St James's, exhibit work by artists who are mostly obsessed with penises, vulvas and sex. If you have been unlucky lately, pay a visit to refresh your memory and spirits. I have to admit that most exhibitions are rather good and give an excellent idea of current trends on the international contemporary art arena. 

British Library - The library (above) is a hidden treasure. It has a permanent collection of sacred texts of many faiths, beautiful illuminated manuscripts, maps, music scores and scientific works from over the centuries. Discover the Magna Carta documents, the Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen's and Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, Händel's and Mozart's music sheets. The library also organises good exhibitions and displays that explore the English language.

Händel House Museum - This small house museum (above) just off the buzzing Oxford Street celebrates Händel's life and work. Take a break from shopping and enjoy a live concert or musical event in the master's sitting room. Jimi Hendrix lived next door, two hundred years later, hence the to blue plaques. History repeats itself.

Electrum Gallery - One of the most renowned contemporary jewellery galleries in the world - this is what they say on their website and I agree with them. Two pieces of my jewellery, by Mark Nuell and Disa Allsoppcome from their exquisite collection.

British Museum - When you get bored with the Egyptian mummies, visit the excellent prints gallery on the top floor. The museum (above) has one of the finest collections in Britain. When I saw the breathtaking Albrecht Dürers there, I could not sleep that night. Michelangelo's beautiful cartoon is permanently displayed.

Barbican - If you are lucky enough to find an entrance to this monstrously ugly concrete housing complex in the City that also houses a library, cinema, concert hall, theatres and restaurants, you will still have to find your way to the exhibition space inside. Once you have found that, you will be invited to join the British Mensa society. As for the exhibitions, they tend to be well curated and worth seeing even when you are not familiar with the featured artist or the subject.

Bank of England Museum - A surprisingly entertaining and informative museum attached to the bank or the Old Lady as it is also known. It covers the 300 years of the bank's history and displays Roman gold bars as well as modern 13kg (28lb) gold bullion that you are allowed to pick up, but not put in your handbag and take home as a souvenir.

Carpenters Workshop Gallery - A small glamorous contemporary design gallery that exhibits unique or limited-edition pieces of furniture, sculptures and installations.


Nikos said...

I always enjoy the Science museum, but that could be for nostalgic reasons mainly - my Father used to take me there as a young boy - he assessed that I would not take to "cultural" education!


Ulrika Laan said...

Nikos - Did you know there is a Do-It-Yourself euthanasia kit in the Science museum? It was used in Australia legally and consists of a laptop and some instruments in a custom-made briefcase. The laptop's there to ask a few questions and when the system was happy with the answers, it gave instructions how to operate the instruments and administer the lethal dose.

It is on the ground floor on the left towards the back.


Londoni Teadus (Science) muuseumis on väljas eutanaasia kohvrike. Kõigepealt vastad spetsiaalse läpaka programmis küsimustele, kui süsteem on vastustega rahul, õpetab kuidas ülejäänud instrumente kasutada ja surmavaid kemikaale omavahel segada. Kohvrike oli legaalselt mõnda aega tagasi Austraalias kasutusel.

Nikos said...

I'll make a point in visiting it when I'm in London over Easter....

Very nice post by the way - I shall be using it as a reference work!