Art After Dark: Accessing London's West End art scene in the evenings
Art of London's latest initiative welcomes the culturally curious to explore the galleries and museums of Central London after work and as part of an evening out.
The well-reported perfect storm of Covid, Brexit and the cost of living crisis has done much to reshape our current way of life. More 'living' is done online, and working from home has become the norm. Even many of us that have returned to the office only go in from Tuesday to Thursday. This radical change to the flow and energy of our cities has knock-on effects on the museums and cultural sector, as well as long-suffering restaurants and nightlife.
Art After Dark is the latest scheme to tackle our collective reluctance to engage with the arts as we used to. Imagined by Heart of London Business Alliance's cultural initiative Art of London, it affords free and exclusive access to a large number of galleries and cultural institutions in London's West End in the evenings. Director Mark Williams sees his job as "amplifying what's happening".
The fertile ground of London's West End doesn't sit still or quiet for very long. Still, Art of London is essentially an itinerary that promotes the vast array of cultural offerings and adds to the nighttime economy. The first confirmed dates are Thursday, 23 and Friday, 24 March. A second opportunity, tieing in with Mayfair Art Weekend, is in the diary for Thursday, 29 and Friday, 30 June. And a third is planned around Frieze Week in October.
The breadth of art on display within a small walkable area (Green Park Tube Station, down Piccadilly, St James', Leicester Sq to St Martin's Lane) lends itself to taking in many shows at several independent commercial galleries as well as ticking off one of the season's must-see exhibitions at a great London institution.
Dozens of venues are planning to remain open. This month Cristea Roberts will present Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid's first ever monoprint series. Stern Pissarro Gallery will share museum-worthy works from the celebrated Impressionist and a specially curated show In The Mood for Red exploring aspects of the most passionate of colours. Hong Kong's 3812 Gallery's London outpost is showing Albert Irvin's colourful watercolours. Up a flight of stairs off Dover Street, you can wonder at the incredible woven global maps of Alighiero Boetti at Robilant+Voena.
All of the above are free to see, and as always, several exhibits at the Royal Academy also won't cost you a penny to enter. Though worth buying a ticket for, the current blockbuster, Spain and the Hispanic World, spans centuries and continents and needs to be seen to be believed. People 25 and under can get in for half price through a subsidising scheme supported by art collectors Batia and Idan Ofer. And anyone getting peckish by now could make a detour to award-winning chef José Pizarro at the onsite Poster Bar, offering complimentary pintxos on Fridays with each drink bought between 5:30 and 8:30pm.
For those that have made it further east, the National Gallery's unrivalled permanent collection is always worth repeat visits, but its latest commission is a first. With her 'My Reality Is Different', Nalini Malani is the recipient of the debut National Gallery's Contemporary Fellowship, supported by Art Fund. The artist has taken a fresh look at some of the masterpieces and emphasised or hidden elements of their form through hand-drawn iPad sketches and animations. Through nine projectors, the Sunley Room is transformed into an impressive immersive space.
In June, the scheme welcomes the National Portrait Gallery, which is set to reopen after extensive remodelling and a new public entrance. The hanging collection will also be refreshed with equality in mind: 48% of portraits from 1900 onwards are of women.
Art After Dark is ideal for Londoners to get their mojo back and enjoy an evening of art and culture after their working day. It's even a chance to catch up on shows that would otherwise pass them by – but for those not living in the capital, the scheme makes a perfect excuse to visit. What better way to begin a long weekend than with extended opening times and unparalleled visual delights? If you are planning a stay from further afield, Philippe Starck-designed St Martin's Lane hotel is a luxurious option. Right on the doorstep of all this, the stages of Theatre Land, and the restaurants and bars of Soho, you'll be right in the heart of the action.
Whether a tourist or resident, one thing under no debate is the option of having a great meal: London's culinary scene caters from crowd-pleasing street food to Michelin Stars, every cuisine and budget catered for. Yokocho Ramen has opened a second permanent branch on Panton Street for those seeking a retro Tokyo vibe, the modern Indian bistro Farzi has been thrilling diners recently. Of course, the family-run Cafe Koha has been a stalwart for thirty years – all great options to feed the art weary.
Extending the evening, those looking for another drink might want to try newly opened Lio London (formerly Cafe de Paris), or the brilliantly named Blame Gloria, both home to celebrated mixologists.
Art After Dark is on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 March and again on 29 and 30 June with mid-October dates to be announced.