Nine Of Europe’s Best Art Galleries That You Won’t Find On The Tourist Trail
Great art. No queues.
Brought to you by Contiki
Together with Contiki, we’re exploring some of the more underground parts of Europe you might not find in a guidebook.
Any trip to Europe is fraught with things you have to do. Anyone who’s been before you, after you or beside you, will reel off an identical list of absolute-musts that continues long after you’ve stopped listening.
Art galleries are no exception, especially during winter when they offer a retreat from Europe’s unreasonably cold weather. For every National Gallery or Uffizi, there are a stack of relatively unknown galleries bursting with culcha that are all too easy to miss if you don’t know where to look.
If you’re trying to find them, there’s no better way than by enlisting someone who knows what they’re talking about. London-based Aussie creative director, artist and album-cover wunderkind Leif Podhajsky, who’s been responsible for the cover art of albums by Tame Impala, Kelis, Bonobo and Foals, gave us his personal pick of the other best galleries in Europe – ones that aren’t the Tate or the pointy French one where that smug looking Mona lady lives.
This giant ship-shaped gallery of glass and steel, moored against the deep green of Jardin d’Acclimatation on the west side of Paris, almost overshadows the remarkable artwork inside. Anyone who’s come within spitting distance of an interior design publication in the last fifty years knows that its architect, Frank Gehry, has quite a notorious list of ‘deconstructivist’ buildings to his name, including the famous titanium-clad Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.
The permanent collection houses works by Maurizio Cattelan, Wolfgang Tillmans, Alberto Giacometti and Sigmar Polke, among others. It also boasts a particularly beautiful large-format image of a rock formation soaked in black paint by Tacita Dean, which makes reference to one of my favorite painters, Caspar David Friedrich.
Each successive gallery room offers something new, rendering the building a campaign of discovery and culminating at the rooftop with views of Paris through a prism of glass and cascading water.
I came to see – ‘Primary Time’ 1974 by Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch artist who was last seen when he took off in what would have been the smallest sailboat to ever cross the Atlantic.
Afterwards: Take a walk through Jardin d’Acclimatation and grab something to eat at one of the many cafes throughout the park.
Address: 13, avenue du Président Wilson, 75 116 Paris
Opening hours: Noon – midnight (closed Tuesdays)
Dedicated to contemporary and modern art, Palais De Tokyo offers an unbroken rotation of exhibitions detailing fresh, new art from around the world. Once seen as the underdog of modern art in Paris, its exciting and adventurous vision has seen it become a leader of contemporary spaces in the City of Lights.
There was a swarm of activity at the time of my visit, with new exhibits being furiously set up behind curtains and artists on lifts adding final touches to the walls. The artwork was a brilliant range of installation and sculptural pieces and the gallery also hosts performances, concerts and other major art events all year round.
I came to see – Henrique Oliveira’s interwoven fractured wooden sculpture, which fuses itself with the building. I was also blown away by Eduardo Basualdo’s dramatic meteorite-looking installation suspended from the ceiling, La cabeza de Goliath.
Afterwards: Cafe Le Smack is perfectly located inside the gallery so you can top up on caffeine before or after your visit.
Address: 37 quai Branly, 75007 Paris Tribal, La Villette
Opening hours: Closed Monday
Due to a deep personal interest in ancient masks, the Musée du quai Branly is my favourite gallery to hang out in awe of indigenous mask art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.
Its spacious, dimly lit rooms add to the sense of arcane knowledge and wisdom of the ancient world. It’s a perfect contrast to the modern art of De Tokyo and LVF, striking a balance between the old and new worlds.
The museum collection has around three and a half thousand objects on display at any given time, so give yourself a good chunk of the day to get through it. One side of the building has been claimed by a giant apocalyptic ‘living wall’ of plants by the artist Patrick Blanc, which trails impressively into the surrounding gardens.
I came to see – Yoyorba masks.
Afterwards – Les Fabricants does great traditional French food. Go for the Escargots sauce persillade (snails in parsley sauce). If you’re after something a bit more low-key, La Candelaria Paris is the place for cheap hole-in-the wall Mexican food.
Address: Bunker, Reinhardtstr. 20, 10117 Berlin-Mitte
Opening hours: Thursday – Sunday. Bookings by appointment only. English and German tours available.
What’s not to like about The Sammlung Boros Collection? It’s a brilliant private collection of contemporary art held captive in a monstrous, symmetrical ex-Nazi bunker with two metre thick concrete walls, dominating an area of a thousand metres squared. It also doubled as a hardcore techno and fetish club in the ‘90s, of which traces linger in every corner.
Eventually purchased by Christian Boros in 2003 and transformed into a space to show his personal art collection, his giant penthouse is also perched on the roof for good measure.
The second exhibition of the Boros collection, the first ran for four years, can only be booked in advance with a five week waiting period – so don’t expect to turn up on the day. I managed to filch a cancellation place a few days out and saw immediately what all the fuss was about: the art on show is incredible and the building seems to have a life of its own.
Artists being shown include a large selection of Wolfgang Tillman’s work from the ‘90s, Olafur Eliasson, Tomas Sacareno, Danh Vo, Alicja Kwade and plenty more.
I came to see: Ai Weiwei, ‘Tree’
Afterwards: This amount of art will make you hungry. I suggest finding the nearest currywurst and just eat until you stop thinking for a while.
Address: Auguststrasse 68, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 12 noon-6pm
The central ‘Mitte’ area of Berlin is packed tight with galleries and museums, which means you can cram a lot into a short amount of time, if that’s what you want.
The best of the lot is the Me Collectors Room, which shows off large chunks of the Thomas Olbricht collection alongside other contemporary private artworks. The permanent ‘Wunderkammer’ display offers over 200 pieces from the Renaissance and the Baroque periods, with a solid focus on the strange and macabre. There’s even a Mark Ryden original that fits in nicely.
The second exhibition presented work by female artists from the Olbricht collection with a range of sculpture, photography and installation of a super high standard. Call me a pushover but I loved everything in it, particularly the photography of Daniela Rossell.
I came to see: The sculpture by Patricia Piccinini, titled ‘Balasana’ or yoga child’s pose. A small girl sits on a rug in this calming position with a small wallaby bent double over her back. To me it offers up concepts of unity with nature and the dream world.
Afterwards: For seriously good coffee and food hit up Father Carpenters Coffee Brewers a short stroll away. You won’t be disappointed; the owner and man behind the machine is an ex Melbourne coffee wizard.
Address: Karl Marx Allee 82, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Peres Projects mostly showcases young, emerging artists and is at the forefront of fusing art with fashion, celebrity and the love of a good party, which seems to work very well in Berlin. Having recently moved into an ex-Soviet building on Karl Marx Allee, the giant new space contrasts brilliantly with the commanding facade.
I dropped in on the eve of a new group exhibition ‘Serialize’ which, among their usual mix of bright-young-things, presented work by Andy Warhol and Guillaume Gelot.
I came to see: The space itself is attraction enough, and was besieged by Mark Flood’s giant scrapbook walls covered with images of Justin Bieber.
Afterwards: Time for a drink. Head to Bürkner Eck in Neukölln for some rum and vinyl, then on to The Black Lodge around the corner for more of a David Lynch vibe.
Address: Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London, SW3 4RY
Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 7 days a week; last entry 5:30pm
The notorious Saatchi Gallery showcases a huge range of contemporary art, specifically focusing on young or lesser known artists from around the world. It largely shows the collections of its owner/founder/Nigella Lawson menacer Charles Saatchi, who paved the way for the Young British Artists (YBAs) like Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas in the ‘90s.
The gallery has moved locations through the years but its new permanent home in Sloane Square is testament to its vision, and the momentum of modern art as a whole. There’s been a number of controversial pieces and exhibitions through the years but this only adds to its edgy reputation, and who wants dull art anyway?
They have a genuine focus on new and interesting work in sculpture, painting and fashion photography. Their online gallery, where artists worldwide can post their own work and find potential buyers, gives Saatchi a scope not often seen and a momentum that always pushes to the future.
I came to see: Richard Wilson’s installation ‘20:50’, which covers the gallery’s ground floor with pitch black sump oil. The mirror reflection and stillness of the oil offer an “amplifying, disorientating and mesmerising experience of the space, and further confound physical logic”.
Afterwards: Take a walk around West London and see how many gold Lamborghinis you can spot.
Address: 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S 3ET
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm
Pace has a long tradition of showcasing contemporary art. Founded in Boston in 1960 by Marc Glimcher, it expanded worldwide with spaces in New York, Beijing and Hong Kong.
The London gallery, while not the largest space on the list, always has something cool and unique on display. I always appreciate experiencing work that other galleries might not have.
Their inaugural exhibition juxtaposed Rothko’s late black and grey paintings with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs of bodies of water, exploring the visual and conceptual affinities between the two.
I came to see: Adam Pendleton’s new exhibition, whose practice centers on an engagement with language and the re-contextualization of history through appropriated imagery.
Afterwards: Smack in the middle of Mayfair, I suggest a cocktail at ECC in SOHOs Chinatown, just ‘round the corner.
Address: 77-82 Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11am-6pm
Whitechapel is an East London institution. Opened in 1901 to bring great art to the people of the east, it’s still going strong today with an excellent rotation of events and exhibitions of contemporary and modern art.
One of the first things I did when I moved to London was go to ‘First Thursdays’ – an event (predictably, on the first Thursday of every month) organised by Whitechapel Gallery and TimeOut magazine which sees a large selection of East London galleries open their doors till late, with much scurrying between shows for free beer and tasty art.
I came to see: A spring exhibition from the V-A-C collection, featuring striking figurative paintings of imagined characters and a tight connection with the natural world.
Afterwards: To be honest there’s no other reason to stay in Whitechapel (sorry Whitechapel). Head to All Press for arguably the best coffee in East London.
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Leif is an artist and creative director who creates artwork and design for a number of brands, record labels and musicians around the world such as Nike, Wired Magazine, Sony Music, Vice, Warner Records, Warp Records, Smart Car, Atlantic, XL, 4AD, Ninja Tune, Modular Records,Foals, Tame Impala, Grimes, The Horrors, Lykke Li, and Bonobo.
Images courtesy of their respective galleries.