Where the art is

Spring has sprung, and that means carpets of snowdrops and golden daffs, wobbly legged lambs and, well, predictably unpredictable weather. But here at South Western Railway we see this as a fine opportunity to get out there and pick up some culture with a visit to one (or several) of our region’s fantastic art galleries. 

So grab a lightweight mac and join us as we dodge the April showers in 10 galleries and museums that are destinations in their own right, and whose current exhibitions will put a spring in any adventurous soul’s step. 

Oh, and if we’ve missed out on your favourite gallery, please let us know in the comments below. We love to hear about your favourite galleries. 

Southampton City Art Gallery

Housed in the understated and elegant Civic Building – a local icon that draws visitors’ eyes with its lighthouse-like clock tower – the Southampton City Art Gallery’s fine art collection holds over 5,300 works that tell the story of western art from the Renaissance to the present day. What’s more, the gallery’s collection of 20th-Century British art is one of the most important outside of London.

And while this is reason enough to make a beeline for Southampton with us, you’ll want to visit before 12 May to catch Roger Mayne and St. Ives: A Defining Moment – a temporary exhibition of early work by renowned photographer Roger Mayne, which traces the links between his art and that of the famous St. Ives group of artists. 

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol

Blessed with an imposing facade (and an effortlessly cool address among the café culture of Clifton), the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is one of those heartwarming public spaces remembered from childhood school visits that blends permanent collections illuminating geology, natural history, local history and other subjects with an impressive programme of temporary exhibitions. 

From 31 March through to 24 June, the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery will be home to beloved artist Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences. Inspired by Hogarth’s morality tale A Rake’s Progress (and featured memorably in the Channel 4 documentary series All in the Best Possible Taste), this series of six intricately detailed tapestries follows the life of the socially-mobile fictional character Tim Rakewell, and invites us to consider our attitudes to class.  

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter

Exeter’s Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery was the brainchild of Devon MP Sir Stafford Northcote of Pynes, one of Prince Albert’s secretaries for the Great Exhibition in 1851. Conceived as a memorial to his former boss, RAMM has evolved, since its completion in 1868, from a combined museum, gallery, public library and technical institute, into an award-winning public treasure that hosts impressive permanent collections and temporary exhibitions that are well worth seeking out. 

From 12 May to 26 August, RAMM is home to Pop Art in Print – an eye-popping exhibition drawn from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s outstanding collection of Pop Art graphics. Gathering together over 70 works by more than 30 artists, this is a comprehensive overview of the influential Pop Art style from the 1960s to the 2000s.  

Sculpture by the Lakes, Nr. Dorchester

Okay, this entry is fully outdoors – so best saved for a sunny Spring day – and requires a 17-minute taxi drive from Dorchester West to visit, but we think you’ll agree that this extraordinary showcase of sculpture nestled in 26 acres of bewitching Dorset countryside is well worth making an exception for. 

Created by and showcasing the work of renowned sculptor Simon Gudgeon, this is a constantly evolving space – change being dictated in part by purchases of existing exhibits and the creation of new works. With the natural surroundings enhancing the placement of Simon’s sculptures (and vice versa) at every turn, a walk here is a transformative experience. 

Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton

As a world-class Swiss art gallery specialising in contemporary and modern art, Hauser & Wirth doesn’t mess around when it comes to choosing locations for its exhibition spaces: Zurich, London, NYC, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and… the village of Bruton. 

As it happens, Durslade Farm on the edge of Bruton is where founder Iwan Wirth made a home, and the extraordinary gallery and multi-purpose arts centre he created here in 2014 is a breathtaking destination in itself – the original farm buildings have been restored and new buildings  added, and there’s the exquisite Oudolf Field, designed by landscape architect, Piet Oudolf. It’s also a hub for talks, screenings, workshops and exhibitions you’d ordinarily expect to find in national galleries. 

Free to enter, the gallery is currently home to the exhibition The Land We Live In, The Land We Left Behind – an ambitious survey exhibition that explores society’s often contradictory relationship with the countryside through the work of artists from 1500 to the present day.   

Aspex, Portsmouth

Housed in a former Navy storehouse in Gunwharf Quays since 2006, Aspex (short for ‘Art Space Exhibitions’) has been specialising in the work of emerging artists for 37 years. This means a visit to Aspex offers a rare opportunity to see high-quality art that’s (as yet) largely free from the push and pull of critics’ opinions that might sway our own feelings. It’s a liberating experience. 

Head there up until 22 April and you can enjoy the colourful, geometric preoccupations of textile designer, screen printer and maker Miesje Chafer, while from 30 March through to 10 June Aspex is presenting a new work by General Public (aka visual artists Chris Poolman and Elizabeth Rowe) called The Endless Village – an exhibition presented as an ambitious, satirical sitcom pilot.

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Name-checked by the Times Literary Supplement as “one of the most important galleries for British modern art in the country”, Pallant House Gallery is an architectural gem in its own right. With its original Queen Anne, Grade 1 Listed townhouse site complemented by a new wing in 2006, Pallant House Gallery has taken the quadrupling of its exhibition space as an opportunity lean into its innovative programme of exhibitions while giving its permanent collection ample room to breathe.

Make your way to Chichester up until 7 May to catch Pop! Art in a Changing Britain – an exhibition that draws on the gallery’s collection of British Pop Art from the 1950s and 1960s to examine how social change and the rise of mass media informed and shaped this profoundly accessible and frequently misunderstood movement.  

The Lightbox, Woking

Strikingly cuboid, with a facade of wood and glass that’s pleasingly Mondrian-like, the three galleries of Woking’s Lightbox have, to date, exhibited collections by the likes of Elizabeth Frink, Damien Hirst, Constable and Renoir (to name just a handful). The Lightbox is also home to a free local history museum called Woking’s Story.     

But before you get stuck into Woking’s illustrious history, we recommend you take in the current exhibition, Picasso: Paper & Clay – a celebration of the artist’s experimentation with drawing, printmaking and ceramics, and how it fed his creativity in all areas of his life and career.   

Salisbury Museum, Salisbury

With the facade of its Grade 1 Listed King’s House home (dating back to the 15th century) looking out to the west front of Salisbury Cathedral, this museum is a feast for the eyes. But don’t think you’ve seen the best of the Salisbury Museum from the handsome exterior – its temporary exhibitions are well worth seeking out. 

Permanent exhibits notwithstanding, we recommend making time to make a springtime visit before 12 May to catch Brian Graham: Towards Music. This series of 40 painted reliefs explores how the artist imagines the beginnings of music and dance, with each work dedicated to a piece of music, a composer or another important figure from these two artistic worlds.  

Tate Modern, London

The former Bankside Power Station needs no introduction – and given that it’s only a pleasant 15-minute amble from Waterloo Station, we’d be remiss to omit this spectacular gallery from our round-up. 

Transporting visitors up until 9 September, Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy is a month-by-month journey through one of the artist's most intensively creative periods. It's the Tate Modern's first ever solo Pablo Picasso exhibition and presents more than 100 of his paintings, sculptures and drawings in addition to family photographs that give a glimpse of the private man.     

Image credits:  Promo box - Bristol Museum & Art Gallery © Chris Bahn, Banner - Boxkite © Bristol Culture