Art walk: Bethnal Green

  • 19 September 2013

East London has been at the heart of creativity in the capital for over two decades, but the geography of this cutting-edge art scene is in a constant state of flux.

Nevertheless, Bethnal Green has managed to maintain both an established and emerging artistic presence, offering a broad range of galleries, studios and project spaces within a relatively small area.

1. Maureen Paley

On exiting Bethnal Green tube station turn left and head south down Cambridge Heath Road and turn right into Wilton Road, which leads into Herald Street. Maureen Paley founded her original gallery in a Victorian terraced house back in 1984, before moving to 21 Herald Street in 1999. Championing new talent from the UK, Europe and the USA, artists who have shown there include Wolfgang Tillmans and Gillian Wearing.

2. Herald St

Just down the road, at no. 2, the progressive gallery Herald Street can be found, which opened in 2006. The gallery is currently hosting I'll Be Your Mirror, an exhibition of works by Lucas Arruda, Antoine Catala, Robert & Trix Haussmann and others.

Magali Reus, Parking (Window), 2013 At The Approach, 5 September – 6 October

3. The Approach

Head back north on Cambridge Heath Road, past the tube and the V&A’s Museum of Childhood (with its collection of child-related artefacts dating back to 1600) and turn right on to Old Ford Road, then left on to Approach Road. The Approach gallery is situated above a pub of the same name, and entrance is via the bar.

4. Vilma Gold

Vilma Gold, a slightly more spacious gallery that made the move to Minerva Street in June, is a ten-minute detour away. Established in 2000 by Rachel Williamd and Steve Pippett, the gallery counts Turner Prize-nominee Mark Titcher among the artists on its books.

5. Cell Project Space

Cell Project Space is set within a courtyard accessed through a car park on the main drag of Cambridge Heath Road. (Cell is written on the side of the building.) This artist-run initiative has a lively programme of events and performances, as well as offering a range of studios and workspaces throughout east London.

6. Wilkinson Gallery

Further along Cambridge Heath Road, just before the canal, lies the once infamous Vyner Street. A decade ago this cobbled lane was the epicentre of contemporary art in London, but the recession and rising rents led influential galleries such as Nettie Horn, Kate MacGarry, Modern Art and Ibid Projects to relocate. Despite this exodus a few spaces remain open, including Wilkinson Gallery, an enormous 6,000 sq ft purpose-built space comprising two galleries and a project room.

7. HADA Contemporary

Another Vyner Street survivor is HADA Contemporary, a gallery dedicated to showcasing East Asian art. Vyner Street is also a good place to stop for a drink during your art walk: The Victory pub is a classic East End boozer, while the restaurant Ombra has a great vantage point over the canal.

8. Regent Studios

In an interesting parallel, a range of new and exciting spaces have opened further west along Regent’s Canal. Transition Gallery, Space In Between, MOT and Five Years are all situated within Regent Studios.

9. Guest Projects

Next door to Regent Studios is acclaimed artist Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects, which offers artists access to a free project space for one month. All of these galleries are a stone’s throw from the vibrant Broadway Market, offering every conceivable type of pub, coffee shop and restaurant and a popular market on Saturdays.

Art Licks promotes lesser-known arts venues in east and south-east London, and offers tours via its website. The Art Licks Weekend takes place 4–6 October. Visit the Art Licks website for details.

Looking for more art in the capital? Discover London's other contemporary art zones with our tours of Shoreditch, Peckham and Mayfair.