In: Jean Nouvel

A few weeks ago I wrote about Mona Hatoum’s tribute exhibition at Tate Modern, London. This particular piece is sensitively related to how an immigrant and refugee managed to break into a cultural scene that could seem enclosed and restricted only to Western artists.

When we think about globalization, we must understand that it affects us in many ways. One of them is cultural expansion. People travel longer distances with less effort nowadays, and decide to immigrate more often, carrying a large baggage full of customs, language influences, and cultural habits with them. Technology also spreads very quickly, connecting more and more people each day.

As ethnic and national populations move around the globe, they establish emotional ties with their places of origin. Artists in particular express their emotional longing, admiration, and sometimes worship of their mother lands in pieces of art that become part of their new country’s cultural heritage.

Shirin Neshat , Rebellious Silence (1994). B&W RC print & ink, photo by Cynthia Preston. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat , Rebellious Silence (1994). B&W RC print & ink, photo by Cynthia Preston. Copyright Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Contemporary Middle Eastern art, for instance, seems to provide answers to all the questions that the rest of the world has about this region’s traditions and cultural background. It is a silent voice that leaves a perpetual echo, one that sings the chorus of a struggle and of tortured beauty. There can be no discrimination in the space of art. A painting, a photograph, a sculpture or an installation remain anonymous for the viewer during the first few minutes of interaction. The name of the artist comes as a revelation. The level of admiration increases, the act of understanding intensifies, and finally an interest has been planted for a long time in the brain and heart of the art lover.

In today’s context, Abu Dhabi is expected to finalize works on its own branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums, which will shift the interest of the world from this distant city’s extravagant architecture and lifestyle, to its status as one of the world’s capitals for contemporary art.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Abu Dhabi is not the first capital to host both Middle Eastern and global art in an environment that unfortunately is not usually linked to the idea of globalization. For instance, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, experienced a renaissance of sorts in the mid-20th century. Following World War II, the city became a tourist destination and a financial center. It was even nicknamed “the Paris of the Middle East” thanks to its French influences and vibrant cultural and intellectual life.

Architect Galal Mahmoud said about Beirut that its history is encompassed in the history of the world, as it includes layers of Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Phoenician influences. Today, Beirut is a place where you can constantly navigate between different minorities and their cultural backgrounds; it is a place where you learn to be more tolerant and open, where you must respect people from a variety of beliefs and backgrounds. It pretty much sounds like Paris today, or London, or New York.

Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. Photo: louvreabudhabi.ae.

Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. Photo: louvreabudhabi.ae.

Now, could Abu Dhabi offer the same vibe? Will the opening of these two monster houses of art attract only the nouveaux riches, or also well-educated and art-thirsty tourists? With a long history of influences (first Iranian in the 1900s, followed by Asian and European in the 1950s and 1960s), just like most of the big capitals of the world, Abu Dhabi is a place that can host most, if not all, the Middle Eastern art outbreaks.

The architectural design of the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum was offered to architect Frank Gehry, who describes the idea behind the structure as: “… Low tech language. The character is messy… like a medieval city that came together over time… You go through this messiness and you find the centre.” The museum will be located on Saadiyat Island, just offshore of the city of Abu Dhabi. The island’s Cultural District will house the largest cluster of world-class cultural assets in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim building is part of a massive project to “create an exhibition space intended to turn this once-sleepy desert city along the Persian Gulf into an international arts capital and tourist destination.” (The New York Times)

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Source: ambafrance-eau.org.

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Source: ambafrance-eau.org.

“Someday, my paintings will be hanging in the Louvre”, van Gogh once said. A museum does not need further introduction. Abu Dhabi is preparing to open the doors to their very own Louvre -possibly in 2017-, a project that consists on building an island inside an island. The architect, Jean Nouvel, wants the museum to belong completely to the culture, history, geography and climate of Abu Dhabi. He has envisioned a place that people would want visit and revisit. As in most Arab cities, there will be a strong contrast between the temperature outside and inside of the venue. People will feel good thanks to this, and will want to share the experience with other people there. A medina of art, built with traditional architectural techniques, held together by an impressive modern dome that encompasses the beauty and poetry of light.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Image © Gehry Partners.

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Image © Gehry Partners.

With these two architectural masterpieces, I believe that Abu Dhabi is breaking into the art world in the most elegant way possible. With the work of those Middle Eastern artists that have been moving audiences throughout the world, and with a continuous flow of ideas and cultural influences, the opening of the Guggenheim and Louvre buildings in the island of Abu Dhabi is announcing that the world is yet to be enchanted and pleasantly surprised.

Federico Fellini once said that “all art is autobiographical”, and Middle Eastern art is constantly underlining this statement. Globally, we are becoming an entity, we are coming closer and closer, and art has a lot to gain from this beautiful gathering of cultural differences. One day, people will be reading “An Autobiography of Earth’s Cultural Identity”.

It’s basically impossible to narrow London’s top modern and contemporary galleries down to 10. With the wealth and vibrancy of the arts scene in the British capital, there are too many to mention. Indeed, London has long been a global powerhouse in the modern and contemporary art world, so much so that this list simply sums up the starting points, merely scratching the surface of the city’s endless offerings.

We’ve created two lists examining galleries in London. This first one will guide you through London’s classic and long-established names such as the Tate and Serpentine, whilst the second will focus on London’s more recent additions to the modern and contemporary scene like Blain|Southern and Victoria Miro.

1. Tate Modern

In a nutshell: The Tate is one of the most famous art institutions in the world and, undoubtedly, a force to be reckoned with. Its neat “family” of four British galleries show its dedication to demonstrating the scope of the arts – old and new – and has thus become a household name across the globe. The Tate Modern is arguably its most impressive offering. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the building was repurposed into a gallery by architects Herzog & de Meuron who decided to reinvent the structure rather than demolish it. Now, with its chimney intact, the Tate’s commanding physical presence on the bank is symbolic of its prevalence in global culture. Its brilliant permanent collection includes world-class works such as David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). The Tate Modern is known for exhibitions that spectacularly transform its interior such as Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (2007) which took the form of a long crack in the floor of the gallery’s Turbine Hall. Don’t miss the Thames-view café and the superb bookshop.

Where: Bankside, SE1. Open 10am-6pm everyday with late closing at 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

2. Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

In a nutshell: Cited by the Independent as “the place to promote a new belief in the good of art”, Whitechapel Gallery was actually one of the first publicly funded galleries in London, and its history is one of education and outreach. What’s more, it organises exhibitions according to local interest. This loyalty to locale make it uniquely personal when considering its international renown. With a penchant for catching up-and-coming artists and catapulting them to recognition, the Whitechapel has premiered the likes of Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko. It even brands its history as one “of firsts”, having also been the only British gallery to exhibit Picasso’s Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the first one in the country to produce a major survey of Jackson Pollock’s work. So, you might see the next big thing, perhaps the polar opposite…or something completely unexpected. Such is the Whitechapel, and it is not to be missed.

Where: Tower Hamlets, E1. Open 11am-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

3. Saatchi 

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

In a nutshell: As the urban legend goes, major British art patron Charles Saatchi apparently accidentally destroyed one of Marc Quinn’s legendary Self sculptures – consisting of the artist’s head cast and frozen in his own blood – when the freezer in his house was unplugged during construction works. Saatchi’s reputation precedes him, his name being one so powerful that an attempt to rename the gallery the Museum of Contemporary Art for London in 2010 completely flopped, ‘Saatchi’ enduring as before. Anyway, you must be doing something right if you’ve got a  in your freezer and Saatchi’s art empire is no weak feat; he opened a gallery in order to showcase his personal collection. The gallery boasts its temporary exhibits nearly always being by artists that no-one has heard of, providing a “springboard” to launch careers.  In a similar vein, the Saatchi is currently showing the rare effort of an all-female exhibit – Champagne Life.

Where: King’s Road, SW3. Open 10am-6pm everyday.

4. Gagosian Galleries

Gagosian

In a nutshell: Larry Gagosian’s art empire spans continents and, unsurprisingly, holds a firm base in London with no less than three galleries in the capital. While the galleries roots are in New York and Los Angeles, London was the first international location that was opened by Gagosian. Although that gallery on Haddon Street is now closed, three more have risen from the ashes including one on Britannia Street which started in 2004 with an exceptional opening exhibit of paintings and sculpture from Cy Twombly. Gagosian’s empire is publicly active and always expanding; in Sothebys’ recent Contemporary Sale, the gallery purchased Yves Klein’s Untitled, Anthropometry (1960) for a cool £1,025,000.  Expect a constantly evolving program of contemporary art in sensitively curated interiors from all three galleries which are all located within reasonable distance of each other. And, of course, all three galleries are commercial, so all the art is for sale…

Where: Britannia Street, WC1 // Davies Street, W1 // Grosvenor Hill, W1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

5. The Hayward

Hayward

The Hayward Gallery facade, London, the Uk

In a nutshell: Located on London’s vibrant South Bank (as part of the SouthBank Centre) amongst many other major arts centres, the Hayward’s Brutalist concrete exterior looks like it popped straight out of one of Orwell’s dystopian narratives. The Hayward doesn’t house a permanent collection, however, it hosts three or four major exhibitions each year; one of its many iconic shows having been Martin Creed’s What’s The Point of It? (20140 and Carsten Höller’s Decision (2015). Whilst its output is largely contemporary, the Hayward brands itself as embracing visual arts from all periods and has, in the past, shown work from Leonardo DaVinci and Edvard Munch. The gallery is well-known for doing ‘survey’ shows of contemporary art, including How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art from the Art’s Council Collection. The SouthBank centre location sees it sharing a setting with some of London’s other cultural epicentres, such as the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, and these make the area the arts hub that it is. As if that weren’t enough, it is adjacent to the Thames and on top of the famous (and luckily still-standing) Undercroft Skatepark so you shouldn’t be stuck for things to do once you finish in the gallery.

Where: Southbank Centre, SE1. The gallery re-opens in 2017. 

6. Serpentine Galleries

Serpentine_Gallery

Serpentine Gallery facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: With two galleries that are within walking distance of each other in the coveted Kensington Gardens of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries are an extremely popular tourist destination. Named after the Serpentine Lake which separates the galleries, you have to cross a bridge to get from one to another if the romance weren’t already enough. They both showcase diverse contemporary art programs, and each space is housed in Grade II listed 19th and 20th century buildings: the original Serpentine in a former tea pavilion (it doesn’t get any more English) and the Serpentine Sackler in an ex-gunpowder store. Every summer the Serpentine commissions a leading architect to design and erect a temporary summer pavilion to be built on its lawn. Each building stays up for three months and, in previous years, has been designed by Pritzker Prize-winning names such as Jean Nouvel – famous for designing numerous iconic galleries worldwide – and Zaha Hadid to name a few.  

Where: Serpentine, Kensington Gardens, W2 // Serpentine Sackler, West Carriage Drive, W2.  Both galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

7. ICA

ICA

Institute of Contemporary Art facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a cultural centre that houses galleries, cinemas, a theatre, a bookshop and a bar. And, located just off Trafalgar Square, it is as geographically central to London as it is to the city’s arts scene. It is a membership institute that promotes and encourages an understanding of radical contemporary art, initiated in 1947 by Londoners in an attempt to endorse an approach that went beyond the traditionalism of the Royal Academy. In the ’70’s the ICA was known for its anarchism, this period is marked by an attack on the director of exhibitions at the time – Norman Rosenthal. In a demonstration of their alternative spirit the ICA decided to keep Rosenthal’s bloodstain and it remains at the institute today, framed and preserved under glass and affectionately signposted ‘This is Norman’s Blood’. Historically, The Independent Group began meeting at the ICA in 1953 which ultimately lead to the launch of British Pop Art. The ICA’s association with events such as this, combined with its history of anarchy (and nonchalance) have made it one of the more exciting, forward-thinking institutions in London today.

Where: Pall Mall, SW1. Open 11am-11pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

The art scene in Paris has long been recognised, first and foremost, as the birthplace of Impressionism with the likes of Manet, Monet and Degas bringing it to global prominence. Today, however, Paris’ modern and contemporary offerings are a strong and exciting force driving its reputation beyond the die-hard, 19th century roots.  From cutting-edge industrial architecture in the Gagosian Le Bourget, to digital innovation at La Gaîté Lyrique, we rounded up the 10 best modern and contemporary galleries to give you an insight into the city’s burgeoning arts scene. 

1. Palais de Tokyo

In a nutshell: The rugged concrete interior may appear to be a meditated aesthetic decision but was actually due to the the gallery’s lack of money in the middle of renovation which led to organisers leaving it in its stripped-down state. Situated across from the Musée d’Art Moderne, the enormous Palais de Tokyo space houses some of the most cutting-edge, contemporary art in Europe including mind-blowing installations, films, and performances that are always exciting and immersive. Don’t miss the excellent bookshop and The Toyko Eat, the gallery’s restaurant.

Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 12pm-12am every day except Tuesday.

2. Centre Georges Pompidou

centre_pompidou

In a nutshell: The base level for any contemporary art-goer in Paris is the Centre Georges Pompidou, its name pays homage to its creator – the French president – who commissioned the building in 1969 as a completely new, multidisciplinary cultural centre. It’s architecture is an extraordinary mélange of multicoloured pipes forming a structure that juts out from the traditional French buildings of the 4th arrondissement. With its exhaustive permanent collections of modern and contemporary art spanning over 100,000 works including Pollock, Kandinsky and Man Ray, the Pompidou is, unsurprisingly, one of the most visited museums in France. Don’t miss the panoramic view from the top floor and the gallery’s library.

Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 11am-10pm everyday except Tuesday.

3. La Gaîté Lyrique

la_gaite_lyrique

In a nutshell: Like the Palais de Tokyo, La Gaîté Lyrique is hyper-contemporary. It focuses on the digital arts, complete with a video game station, interactive library and café, as well as exhibitions in the basement. The institution embraces all forms of contemporary digital expression from cinema, web design, and visual arts to electronic music. You’ll find many students in the café, teens playing the video games and plenty of families who take advantage of the kids afternoons the gallery holds during its exhibitions. 

Where: 3rd arrondissement. Open 2pm-8pm Tuesday-Saturday and 12pm-6pm Sundays. Closed Monday.

4. Musée d’Art Moderne

musee_moderne

In a nutshell: Located in the East-Wing of the Palais de Toyko, the Musée d’Art Moderne has been running since 1968 with over 10,000 modern and contemporary works from both European and global artists as well as several temporary exhibitions each year. The gallery was briefly closed in 2010 after a theft of over €100,000 worth of masterpieces, including works by Matisse and Modigliani. Even with its compelling heist history, the gallery is not as well-known as its name suggests, but is still worth a visit for its excellent permanent collection.

Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday except Thursday with a late opening until 10pm. Closed Monday.

5. Jeu de Paume

jeu_de_paume

In a nutshell: Situated on the edge of Paris’ Place de Concorde in the famous Tuileries Garden, the Jeu de Paume is a beautiful 19th century building that once served as a tennis court, (hence the gallery’s title – ‘Jeu de Paume’ is French for racquet), as well as a sorting house for Nazi loot during WWII. The work on display, however, often goes above and beyond the building’s history with a focus on exhibiting post-war mechanical/electronic art – predominantly photography but also includes cinema, video installation, web art and more. Its major exhibitions, such as the current showcase of Philippe Halsman’s famous celebrity portraits have made it a popular destination for the city’s art-goers.

Where: 8th arrondissement. Open 11am-9pm Tuesday and 11am-7pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

6. Maison Européenne de la Photographie

maison_de_la_photographie

In a nutshell: Housed in an ex-hotel in Paris’ historic 4th quarter Le Marais, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is an institution dedicated to showcasing contemporary photography with a collection of over 20,000 works as well as rotating exhibitions which show anything from portraiture to optical illusions. Each rotation gives a broad vision of photography today, recently showing a major exhibition documenting a season at French fashion house Lanvin, as well as the remarkably composed architectural photographs of Caio Reisewitz. As well as these spaces, the gallery houses an auditorium, library, and video viewing facility and runs workshops and events throughout the year.

Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 10am-8pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

7. Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain

foundation_cartier

In a nutshell: Describing itself as having an “original approach to corporate philanthropy”, the Cartier Foundation commits itself to raising public awareness for contemporary art by exhibiting established artists as well as offering younger ones a chance to debut. Housed in a glass building designed by Pritzker Prize architect Jean Nouvel, it sits in a tranquil woodland garden, landscaped by Lothar Baumgarten making it a worthwhile place to visit for reasons beyond just the art. As well as organising multiple exhibitions, the foundation has created ‘Nomadic Nights’, an event focusing on the linkage between different kinds of contemporary expression via the performing arts.

Where: 14th arrondissement. Open 11am-8pm Wednesday-Saturday and 11am-10pm on Tuesdays. Closed Monday.

8/9. Gagosian Galleries

gagosian_gallery

In a nutshell: Major player in the contemporary art world, Larry Gagosian has fifteen galleries worldwide including two in Paris; one in the north-eastern suburb Le Bourget and another in the 8th arrondissement. The former is in an industrial park of Le Bourget, its location enabling the gallery’s spacious interior which, like Paris’ Cartier Foundation, was designed by Jean Nouvel. Indeed, the building is an extraordinary work in itself, combining the rugged industrial original with a smart contemporary finish. The latter is a smaller space than its suburban counterpart but is exceptional nonetheless, set in a Parisian mansion just off the Champs-Élysées. Expect a vibrant contemporary art program featuring leading international artists. 

Where:  8th arrondissement. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday // 93350 Le Bourget. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday.

10. MAC/VAL 

mac:val

In a nutshell: Paris’ size to population ratio has always been pretty tight and is one of the reasons why many large public spaces lie just outside the Périphérique dual-carriageway that defines the city limits. One of the many exciting contemporary art centres in the suburbs is Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, a.k.a. MAC/VAL. Situated in the south-eastern suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine in a sprawling contemporary building, MAC/VAL boasts being the first museum completely dedicated to the French ’50’s art scene. Having now expanded its collection to house everything from the ’50’s to contemporary art, the gallery also enjoys exhibiting both experienced and up-and-coming artists.

Where: 94400 Vitry-sur-Seine. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Friday and 12pm-7pm on Weekends and holidays. Closed on Mondays.