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 on our Facebook page! 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 6 May to catch Greg Gilbert – A Gentle Shrug into Everything – a temporary exhibition of work by Greg Gilbert. In 2016 Gilbert was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer which triggered this major shift in his practice from miniature, photorealistic biro studies drawn from photographs to equally intricate but surreal imaginings.


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.

Until 19 May, the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery will be home to Fabric Africa: Stories told through textiles.From mud cloth to adinkra, barkcloth dresses to kanga cotton prints, ‘royal’ kente cloth to huge embroidered agbadas, this exhibition will give you a taste of the amazing ingenuity of the textile artists of Africa and explore the importance of cloth in social and political lives of those who wear them.


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.

RAMM is home to Exeter’s Fine Art Collection: Women Artists until 9 June – shining a spotlight on women artists in RAMM’s fine art collection, this exhibition features works from the 1770s until 2011. Works include the suffragette artist Olive Wharry (1886-1947) and her views of Exeter after the blitz.


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 two exhibitions - ‘Pathetic Fallacy’, an exhibition by Matthew Day Jackson and 'Eve' by Catherine Goodman.


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 between 3 April and 23 June to see Crafted Futures - a showcase of local and international makers who are harnessing technology as a means of creative production, redefining craft for the modern age.


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 23 June to catch From Pissarro to Kollwitz: The Elizabeth Burney Bequest - The collection, on paper bequest by Elizabeth May Parker (née Burney), takes a look at humanity through the eyes of a female collector.


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, Women in Photography: A History of British Trailblazers – an in depth historical survey showcasing the achievements of female photographers working in Britain.



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 visit to catch Peter Thursby: The Power of Line and Form. This exhibition represents a glimpse into Thursby's abstract sculptures that challenged semi-abstract and figurative work.


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 14 July, MAGIC REALISM: ART IN WEIMAR GERMANY 1919-33 explores the diverse practices of a number of different artists, including Otto Dix, George Grosz, Albert Birkle and Jeanne Mammen. Although the term ‘magic realism’ is today commonly associated with the literature of Latin America, it was inherited from the artist and critic Franz Roh who invented it in 1925 to describe a shift from the art of the expressionist era, towards cold veracity and unsettling imagery. In the context of growing political extremism, the new realism reflected a fluid social experience as well as inner worlds of emotion and magic.


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