London has always been an international cultural center. Throughout history, reaching all the way back to Shakespeare and the Globe Theater, London has fostered and sustained creative activity. Galleries have not held a huge presence until the 1980's, in which they started popping up all over the city. Today, there are about 1,500 galleries in London, a huge increase compared to what it looked like 30 years ago, making it one of the international gallery hopping hubs.
West London has established large contemporary museums such as Victoria and Albert Museum, which features a permanent collection that focuses on more decorative than fine art, always relating contemporary art back to antiquities. Right down the street from Buckingham Palace lies the Institute of Contemporary Art, whose location is steeped with historical significance. As the location for Francis Bacon's first solo exhibition, which was very controversial, and one of The Clash's first shows, the Institute of Contemporary Art continues to showcase politically charged exhibitions such as their current show that looks at the techno music culture and its evolution centered out of Detroit.
Besides London's established institutions, more and more galleries are opening in the South of the Thames River. An attractive area for gallerists, the South of the Thames offers a more industrial feel with open warehouses still available all walking distance from one another, creating a new gallery centered community.
Perhaps the most famous of these is Damien Hirst's newest project, Newport Street Gallery (featured above). Located right next the train tracks, the gallery is in the main industrial area, but only a ten minute drive from the Thames. The gallery was created by a financially stable artist not to sell his own work, but produces exhibitions featuring his contemporaries, placing them within the art market.
The continuation of building these spaces and revitalizing the area just adds to London's already expansive cultural success. It would take days to travel and visit it all, between the museums and galleries, but the variety of artists and mediums is spectacular to behold. For all of the historic musicians, poets, artists, and revolutionaries, the spaces are becoming cutting-edge, restored ideas, a nod to the ones who came before them.