Contemporary Asian art in… London: Art Radar guide

Art Radar’s guide to making the most of London’s Asian art scene.

Fancy a long weekend art break? We kick off the second of our Art Radar Contemporary Art In… Art Guide Series with a visit to the cultural nexus of London. Our art guide contains everything you need to know for a visit full of Asian art sights, from where to find the best galleries to what to wear and when to go.

Ai WeiWei, Sunflower Seeds, Tate Modern 2010, Image taken from

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds, 12 October 2010 to 2 May 2011, Tate Modern, London.

London is synonymous with culture. The city has a long history of possessing noteworthy museums and artistic institutions that have contributed to the city’s ascent to cultural heights. In the realm of contemporary visual culture, London rivals the likes of New York, Paris and, increasingly, Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore. Asian contemporary art occupies a large market share in London’s ever-expanding art economy. Culture vultures need to head westwards in order to experience the best of the East.

When to visit?

If Asian art is your inclination, then you can find enough in London to keep you busy all year round. Most major cultural institutions like Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Barbican Centre showcase exhibitions continually. The Asian department at the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum have permanent exhibits of Oriental artifacts, which offer a perfect indoor respite from the British weather; for contemporary art places such as the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre, which presented a major exhibition of the Indian photographer Dayanita Singh in 2013, are great for wandering round.

V&A 150th Anniversary logo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

V&A 150th Anniversary logo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Where to stay?

One of the reasons London is the creative capital of the world is because every nook and cranny of the city is dotted with diverse artistic and cultural institutions. From the recognised repositories of history like the British Museum to the edgy pop-up galleries in the East End, art-lovers are spoiled for choice in this city.

Naturally where one stays depends a lot on the budget, as well as what sort of art one is keen to see. Most of the museums and established galleries are located in the more expensive central and southwest areas of London. If opulent, old world charm is what you are after then Corinthia Hotel near Charing Cross or Claridge’s in Mayfair are both great choices.

Tucked away in the gritty corner of Shoreditch is another gem called Boundary, a boutique twelve-roomed hotel. Each room is a unique homage to a designer or a design movement. Take your pick from Bauhaus, Scandinavian and the Le Corbusier designs amongst many others.

Alternatively, an apartment rental in London from a company like HouseTrip lets you browse the map to find a property in the best location for your artsy stay. Many homes are also beautifully well designed for a unique visual taste of London.

Art Fairs

The grey London skies offset the visual burst of colour that the art scene has to offer. The yearly string of art fairs add a dash of vibrancy and draw in hoards of collectors, art practitioners and enthusiasts.

One of the most important art fairs dedicated solely to art of the Eastern kind is the Asian Art In London fair. Since its launch in 1998, the fair has united over sixty of the most prominent dealers, galleries, auction houses and collectors specialising in Asian art. The ten day art fair also collaborates with various institutions to organise lectures, panel discussions, research seminars with experts specialising in the field of Asian art. In 2014, the fair will take place from 30 October to 8 November.

Frieze, one of the most prominent fairs worldwide, also offer a good mix of Asian art at its annual London edition.

Deutsche began sponsoring London's Frieze Art Fair in 2010. Image from

Deutsche began sponsoring London’s Frieze Art Fair in 2010. Image from

Auction Houses

Since London is a key art spot it comes as no surprise that all the major auction houses find their branch offices in the capital. Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s all have a stellar collection of art in their Asian art departments. One of the largest auction houses for South Asian art, collectibles, jewellery and antiquities, Saffronart also opened its office doors in the UK capital in 2008 and since then has been influential in developing a global presence for Asian art on the London art scene.

These auction houses have frequent auctions of Chinese, Japanese, South Eastern, South Asian and Middle Eastern modern and contemporary art.

Riyas Komu, 'Two Fathers from Gujrat,' 2008, mixed media, 160 x 264.2cm. Image courtesy Saffronart.

Riyas Komu, ‘Two Fathers from Gujrat,’ 2008, mixed media, 160 x 264.2cm. Image courtesy Saffronart.

Lecture Series

For those who are more academically inclined, it is possible to delve into the history of Asian art. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a part of the University of London, organises monthly lectures as part of the Islamic Art Circle and Indian Art Circle. These lectures are open to all for a nominal, yearly membership fee of GBP10. The full programme can be found on the SOAS Art Circle website.

Ghasem Hajizadeh, 'Untitled', 2000, mixed media on canvas, 210 x 180 cm. Photo: Taha Moghani. Image courtesy the Brunei Gallery, SOAS.

Ghasem Hajizadeh, ‘Untitled’, 2000, mixed media on canvas, 210 x 180cm. Photo: Taha Moghani. Image courtesy the Brunei Gallery, SOAS.


If the above do not satisfy your Asian artistic craving, here are a few galleries in the capital, which feature regular Asian contemporary art:

  • Aicon Gallery – South Asian Modern and Contemporary art
  • Joost van den Bergh – Indian, Southeast Asian and Japanese works of art
  • Michael Goedhuis – Chinese contemporary art
  • Chinese Contemporary – Contemporary Chinese art
  • Grosvenor Gallery – Indian Modern and Contemporary art
  • Xerxes Art – Iranian and Middle-eastern Contemporary art
  • Simon Pilling – East Asian Art and Interiors, Contemporary Japanese works of art
  • Hua Gallery – Contemporary Chinese Art

Art Maps/Guides

For those who want keep tabs on the ever-changing artscape offered by London, TimeOut London has a diverse range of suggestions. The Art Fund website also has an excellent selection of art exhibition listings around the city.

If you just want to wander around the art pockets of the city, then the Guardian art map is a comprehensive and interactive site, which divides the gallery hot spots of the city by area.

Ambika Rajgopal


Related Topics: LondonAsian art, fairs, art tourism, museumsgalleries, auctions, lectures

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