“One of the most elegant art spaces in London”, Adrian Searle, The Guardian
The South London Gallery (SLG) is an internationally renowned public institution which has been free to the public since its foundation in 1891. The gallery opened on its present site on Peckham Road in 1891 as the South London Fine Art Gallery and Library. Its founding mission to “bring art to the people of south London” is a vision which continues to hold true to this day and with a particular emphasis in the past twenty years, in showing challenging new work by emerging and established British and international artists.
The South London Galley is a registered charity which raises more than half of its income from trusts and foundations, sponsors and fundraising events.
The SLG presents contemporary art exhibitions in the beautiful Victorian gallery space on the ground floor, alongside smaller shows in the first floor galleries in the neighbouring Matsudaira Wing which opened in 2010. The gallery’s emphasis is on presenting new work by British and international artists, often by those who have rarely or never had a solo show in a London institution. Every day at 1pm there is a free tour of the current shows, and screenings, performances and talks by and about some of the most interesting local, national and international artists, curators and thinkers are presented in the purpose-built Clore Studio, accessed via the Fox Garden at the back of the café.
The gallery has an established reputation for its programme of contemporary art exhibitions, film and performance events, with integrated education projects for children, young people and adults. The exhibitions programme has featured solo shows by established international figures such as Ellen Gallagher, Thomas Hirschhorn, Gabriel Kuri, Rashid Johnson, Rivane Neuenschwander, Roman Ondak, Amie Siegel and Lawrence Weiner, as well as those by younger and mid-career artists such as Alice Channer, Michael Dean, Thea Djordjadze, Ryan Gander and Oscar Murillo. Group shows bring together works by established and lesser-known British and international artists, whilst an ongoing residency programme provides opportunities for artists to develop a new body of work and exhibit at the SLG.
The gallery is open Tuesday–Sunday 11–6pm, except Wednesdays and the last Friday of the month until 9pm. Closed Mondays. Admission is free.
Providing opportunities for learning and participation is at the heart of the South London Gallery’s purpose, and thousands of children, young people and adults take part in an extensive programme of activities. This includes a peer-led young people’s forum and website, www.recreativeuk.com; free family workshops every Sunday in the Clore Studio; creative play activities on Sceaux Gardens housing estate; artist-led projects on other local estates; ongoing provision for school visits; and a BBC Children in Need-funded programme for looked after children.
Since it opened on 4 May 1891, the gallery’s founding principal was to be a “gallery for the people of south London open to the public free, and on Sundays”. It showed a changing programme of fine and applied arts exhibitions and began to collect works of art including many relating to the local area.
The gallery is constructed of Portland stone and hand-made pressed bricks, much favoured by the Arts and Crafts tradition of the time. The original marquetry floor (not on public display) was designed by Walter Crane and bears the inscription “The source of art is in the life of a people”.
In 2010 the gallery opened additional buildings designed by 6a architects to provide new small-scale galleries, an artists’ flat, a café, gardens, and an education and events studio on the footprint of the original lecture hall. The Matsudaira Wing, Clore Studio and Fox Garden opened to the public on 25 June 2010.
2015 marked the next significant phase in the South London Gallery’s growth with the announcement of the gallery’s plans to expand into the former Peckham Road Fire Station and the launch of a fundraising campaign to enable its renovation and transformation into a cultural centre which will be an annexe to the SLG’s main site and open to the public in 2018.
Over the past year, internationally renowned artist Gabriel Orozco has been working with acclaimed architectural practice 6a to transform the gallery’s existing rear courtyard into an extraordinary new public garden and visitor attraction, opening to the public in autumn 2016. Playing on the idea of an overgrown urban ruin, Orozco’s garden will also incorporate a new walkway to provide more direct access to the gallery for residents of Sceaux Gardens estate, with whom the SLG has been collaborating for a number of years. Complimenting the transformation of the garden will be a new Reading Room and Visitor Reception Area, providing indoor spaces for visitors to relax and enjoy the garden throughout the seasons.
Fund-raising for the project is still underway, with generous support already gratefully received from:
Arts Council England, Cockayne, London Community Foundation, Marian Goodman Gallery, Edwin Fox Foundation, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, The Henry Moore Foundation, The Ampersand Foundation, Finnis Scott Foundation, Takeo Obayashi, The Panton Trust, Southwark Council’s ‘Cleaner Greener Safer programme, and other donors.
The South London Gallery collection began with the inception of the gallery in 1891. It has grown over the gallery’s lifetime and includes works by Modern British artists, a collection of more than 500 20th century prints and contemporary works relating to south London. Even though the collection is not on permanent display, it is a valuable resource for projects with schools and allows pupils hands on experience of contemporary works of art.
Image: Under the Same Sun, installation view 2016. Photo: Andy Stagg.