Beau is an artist and Contributing Writer at ArtDrunk. Follow him on Instagram.
South London could really be considered a city unto itself. For practical purposes, this guide will focus primarily on the South East, which reaches from Bermondsey, on the banks of the Thames, down through Peckham and Camberwell. This area has been busy putting on the mantle of London’s most-happening arts neighborhood. An abundance of (relatively) affordable space has drawn artists and galleries to the area, and there seems to be something new popping up everyday. From stalwart institutions like the South London Gallery, to miniscule temporary shows, the South is arguably the best place to experience the full range of London’s contemporary art scene.
Like the East, the South has a long history of industry and immigration. It’s perhaps less gentrified for the moment, with areas like Peckham Rye still boasting vibrant community markets and highstreets. The pioneering gallerists who first opened spaces here have gone to great lengths to balance their commercial missions with local interests, and the South-East has become a fascinating place to witness how gallerists and artists practice principles of accessibility, outreach, and community engagement.
Despite living in London for five years, it was only recently that I really began to know the South. (The saying that London is a collection of villages is true, and I confess I hadn’t ventured far beyond my own.) It was thanks to friends who “live South” that I began to explore it in earnest, and for this I owe them a debt of gratitude. Indeed, living in a city where there’s always something to discover is among the best parts of living in London.
The Tate Modern looms above the Thames just south of Saint Pauls, and its imposing exterior matches its reputation as the UK’s most prestigious space for modern art. Originally a power station, the Tate Modern has a world-class permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century works. You’ll also find blockbuster exhibitions like Yayoi Kusama, Paul Cezanne, and Nam June Paik. The Tate also hosts their annual Hyundai Commission in its cavernous Turbine Hall – this year, Cecilia Vicuña takes over the space.
Mon – Sun / 10am – 6pm
White Cube is among the most indelibly Londonian of all the city’s galleries. Founded by Jay Jopling in 1993 (at the start it was a single, tiny room), the gallery was the first to champion the Young British Artists. Without White Cube, we may never have known the names Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk, or Damien Hirst. The hangar-like Bermondsey outpost shows both the bluechip names at the core of the gallery’s impressive roster, and younger stars like Louise Giovenelli. The gallery’s dramatic corridor and massive rooms lend an impressive weight to whatever’s on, be it painting, photography, or sculpture.
Tue – Sat / 10am – 6pm
Sun / 12pm – 6pm
South London Gallery is one of South London’s oldest art spaces, dating all the way back to 1891. Its ornate Victorian facade continues to welcome visitors who are curious about the cutting edge. The Gallery has an international reputation for presenting experimental work, and also hosts the annual “New Contemporaries” exhibition, which highlights recent art school graduates. There’s no guarantee you’ll like everything you see here, but if you want some of the freshest and boldest art in London, head straight here.
Tue – Sun / 11am – 6pm (Wed until 9pm)
When Sid Motion first opened her gallery in 2016, she wanted to create a space that was inclusive, accessible, and community-oriented. The gallery has become a shining model of these virtues, and stands out for its inventive programming and strong commitment to its founding principles. Located in a small but vibrant neighborhood in South Bermondsey, it’s one of the best places to find exciting new artists and innovative curatorial approaches. Sid, along with partner and painter Charlie Billingham, also organizes the South Bermondsey Art Trail, a yearly event that brings together the area’s galleries, artists, and project spaces for a weekend of open studios, exhibits, and live events.
Thu – Sat / 12pm – 6pm
In the heart of the Southbank Centre, the modernist concrete and steel bastion of London culture, the Hayward shares its walls with the tktk symphony, National Theatre, and the British Film Institute. But this hallowed emplacement doesn’t keep the Hayward from innovative and daring programing, and it’s a consistently reliable — and exciting — place to read the temperature of the London art world.
Wed / 11am – 9pm
Thu – Sat / 11am – 7pm
Sun / 10am – 6pm
Hannah Barry was one of the first gallerists to open a space in Peckham, and she remains the de-facto queen, mentor, and guiding spirit of the neighborhood’s emerging art scene. The gallery has a reputation for championing young artists, and its recent shows of figurative painters have been especially strong. In addition to the gallery, Hannah Barry also founded Bold Tendencies, a non-for-profit arts program that turns a neighboring car park into a summertime performance venue, featuring an exciting mix of music, dance, and readings.
Wed – Sat / 11am – 6pm
Founded in 2009, The Sunday Painter is among the most iconic, and emblematic, of South London’s young galleries. Its artist-led program emphasizes immersive solo exhibitions, and it has a reputation for intelligent programming and scrappy style. Though its roster and walls may be small, its shows are full of vibrancy and character.
Wed – Sat / 12pm –6pm
Sitting just off verdant Battersea Park, Cooke Latham is a relatively young gallery, opened in 2018. The gallery has an eccentric aesthetic and wry humor, and puts on shows that are consistently unexpected, quirky, and very good. During Frieze Week, they’ll feature an exhibit of Rade Petrasevic’s noodley and provocative figurative paintings.
Wed – Fri / 10am – 6pm
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Bacon butter or seafood butter? That’s the first decision you’ll need to make at Kudu, an open kitchen-style restaurant dedicated to South African cuisines. As you make your way down the menu to decide what else to eat, you’ll be seduced by the smoke of hangar steak being grilled in the open. That’s a must-have (along with the fig and frangipane tart). Everything is fresh and flavorful though, so can’t go wrong once you’ve made it to Kudu.
Wed – Thu / 6pm – 10pm
Fri / 12pm – 2:30pm, 6pm – 10pm
Sat – Sun / 11am – 2:30pm, 6pm – 10pm
London is known far and wide for the wealth and variety of its Indian restaurants. But here, on a leafy corner below the overground tracks, just a few minutes from Peckham Rye, sits one of the very best. Ganapati specializes in the flavors of Southern India. You should definitely start your meal with their poppadoms, which come with an assortment of homemade sauces.
Tue – Fri / 12pm – 2:45pm, 5:30pm – 10:30pm
Sat / 12pm – 10:30pm
Sun / 12pm – 10pm
Just across from White Cube Bermondsey, Casse-Croûte is the ideal place to plop when you’re done with art for the day. A traditional French bistro with a cozy interior, its menu has all the classics, as well as daily specials à la française.
Mon – Sat / 12pm – 10:30pm
Sun / 12pm – 4:30pm
Come to Mr. Bao for the best buns in Peckham, or indeed London. It’s a neighborhood favorite, and is regularly backed with a cheerful assortment of local characters. This writer vouches for the brisket bao, but the vegetarian tofu bao is a close second.
Mon – Wed / 5pm – 10pm
Thu / 12pm – 3pm, 5pm – 10pm
Fri / 12pm – 3pm, 5pm – 10:30pm
Sat / 11am – 11pm
Sun / 11am – 10pm