Art is as vital to humanity as breathing itself. From primordial cave paintings to classical portraits by the Romantics that took years to complete, art is a way of expressing ourselves that captures the hearts of others.
Cubism, Surrealism, Impressionism, each period of time has had a unique movement that represents the zeitgeist of the moment, encapsulating the feelings and philosophies of the time. In that way, art has become both a time capsule of the past and also an ever-changing world that constantly surprises and enthrals its audience. As one of the world’s artistic capitals, with some of the finest expressions ever created, London has become the go-to location for art lovers far and wide who wish to discover the very best modern and classical pieces from around the world.
For some guidance through the myriad galleries and museums of London, we at Lux Worldwide spoke to Matthew Jones, the Design Consultant and Chairman of John Jones about which of London’s galleries he believed were most worthy of a visit. As leading global specialists in the preservation and presentation of fine art, John Jones have created bespoke frames for many iconic pieces of artwork in London galleries through the years and continue to work closely with museums and galleries alike to ensure that artwork looks its absolute best. If anyone knows the best to visit, it’s them.
1. The Victoria and Albert Museum
Heralded as “the world’s greatest museum of art and design,” the Victoria and Albert Museum can easily boast the claim to being one of London’s most iconic locations. With upcoming exhibitions on wedding dresses and the savage beauty of Alexander McQueen’s gothic fashion, the museum’s expertly curated collections create strong reactionary responses.
“The show that made me cry was the incredible retrospective of Diane Arbus, showing her life’s work in images and how she tragically came to kill herself,” recalls Matthew of one of the more stirring of exhibitions. “The V&A is one of those places you can really lose yourself – put the headphones on and get lost in an emotional journey.” John Jones also have a strong relationship with the museum, having recently framed the fashion retrospective ‘Horst: Photographer of Style’ which was widely considered one of their proudest moments.
2. The Royal Academy Of Arts
Unique in being one of the remaining independent and privately funded institutions of the arts in London, The Royal Academy of Arts has garnered a reputation as the venue for some of the most interesting art exhibitions that the country has ever seen. “The breadth of their show programme is so impressive, you can almost guarantee that at all times there will be a show on you have to see,” says Matthew.
“We framed the Hockney exhibition there a few years ago,” recalls Matthew, who had a great deal of input into the frames used for some of Hockney’s vibrant and dreamlike landscapes inspired by the Yorkshire countryside. On more recent exhibitions Matthew said “I was impressed by the Radical Geometry Exhibition,” a show that collected together some of the more dynamic art from the last 100 years, including kinetic sculptures, neon and interactive materials for a “great showcase of modern art”.
3. Somerset House
A stately home with as opulent an exterior as the art it holds within, Somerset house was once a palace for the Duke of Somerset Edward Seymour in 1547. Now one of the more grandiose of London’s institutions, the palace hosts exhibitions from all over the world and continually draws enormous crowds.
The gallery is “known for the breadth of cultural collaborations across photography, fashion, art, film and music. It’s really cool!” says Matthew. “We recently framed the Chris Stein/Negative Me, Blondie and the advent of punk exhibition.” You can’t get much cooler than that.
4. Wapping Power Station
One of the more Avant-Garde spaces on the list, Wapping Power Station, as the name suggests, was once responsible for providing electricity across London. Converted into an arts centre in 1977, the building has hosted a number of innovative shows that are still being spoken about today.
“Their first exhibition displayed all the original machinery made into sculptures, the whole area was blacked out and filled with water and fibre optics provided endless light. Fashion designer Yoji Yamamoto projected images onto the water, it was a real dreamlike experience” Matthew remembers. “I used to live opposite and saw some great shows there”. Keeping the original energy alive, Jules Wright has taken the space at Mayfair and John Jones recently framed the photography collection of Abbas Kowsari, which is still running until the 28th February this year.
5. Victoria Miro
Exhibiting modern art by both up-and-coming and established artists from the USA, Europe and Asia, Victoria Miro is a gallery that is all about the wow factor. “Their recent Idris Kahn exhibition, Beyond the Black in 2013, gave me the same wow effect as when I went to see Mark Rothko at Tate Modern” says Matthew, recalling to us how the atmosphere of the gallery that day was both powerful and enthralling.
Having worked closely with Idris Kahn in the past, Matthew told us he felt very proud to see what he had achieved. “We made the panels and carefully designed frames that work well for his contemporary art, the large black profiles almost became part of the art.” For those who want a taste of what Victoria Miro is especially famed for, catch the current show with work from Sarah Sze, a New York-based artist who uses everyday objects to create sculptures and site-specific installations.
Arriving hand-in-hand with the recent surge in the Italian art market at auctions, Mazzoleni is a recently refurbished Mayfair gallery that specialises in Post-war Italian art and Arte Povera. “It’s great to see an Italian-owned gallery open a space specialising in Italian art,” says Matthew, telling us how the recent boom in interest in Italian art could lead to becoming the latest trend. Check out their current exhibition on Bonalumi Sculptures – a series of contemporary pieces from a career that has spanned over six decades.
7. Hales Gallery
A gallery for those who are more inclined to contemporary art, Hales Gallery is best known for exhibitions which present the artworks in dynamic ways. “John Jones did the framing for the amazing Sebastian Bremmer show open this month,” says Matthew. “Our long relationship with Hales gallery is what started our whole interest in building our own collection of contemporary art, with the artists they represent such as Danny Rolph, who was the first work we bought.”
A perfect gallery for those looking to start their own art collection, Hales Gallery is both inviting and insightful towards the value and beauty of art. “My advice to new collectors has always been, if you want to start a collection, go and see the print collection at Whitechapel or the artists showing at Hales,” says Matthew. Good advice indeed.
8. The House Of Illustration
As its name implies the House of Illustration is a celebration of some of the finest drawings and illustrations the world has to offer. “It’s great to have a gallery like this specialising and celebrating illustration,” explain Matthew.
For Roald Dahl fans, childhood can be relived in their recent exhibition of illustrations from Quentin Blake. Famed for drawing the characters from growing up favourites The Twits and The Hungry Crocodile, the Quentin Blake exhibition shows original illustrations from some of the Roald Dahl’s most loved works. “We loved having those evocative images from childhood in the John Jones building. So much care and consideration goes into how best to present artworks, and the whole team enjoy going to see them in situ at the shows.”
9. The Tate Modern
As entwined with the art world as paint, no list of London galleries would be complete without one incarnation of the Tate. Without a doubt the art giant of London, the Tate Modern is home to all things contemporary and unique and always worth a visit.
“When my daughter Coco was born, we visited Tate Modern 11 times in her first 6 months! Not just London’s art giant, Tate Modern is a great day out for families; it’s easy to get around, with great cafes and changing facilities – as well as getting to see some great art” Matthew tells us. In terms of exhibits in the gallery “The Richard Hamilton show stands out for me especially. John Jones was Richard Hamilton’s framer for years and a lot of the works that were installed in that exhibition were our frames from 40 years ago, originally made by my father.” A gallery with lots of personality, the best thing about the Tate Modern is that it’s constantly evolving and showcasing new art from unexpected quarters of the world.
10. Noteworthy Mentions
As any art lover in London will tell you narrowing down all of the galleries into the top ten is simply impossible. As such a personal expression of feelings and emotions, art touches people in different ways. “It’s difficult to name a list of top ten as there are so many galleries I love in London” says Matthew, “so I’d also list the following as firm favourites: Hamiltons Gallery which is now showing Charles March, Timothy Taylor gallery, Halcyon Gallery, and Dominique Levy are all definitely among the best that London has to offer.” In terms of new galleries that have opened recently, the Contini Gallery on New Bond Street is surely one of the best for those looking for something new.