North London's Cultural Guide

Free Weekend? Take Our Canal Art Walk

It's not only healthy and scenic, but even better, every gallery on this trip has no admission fee

Leave the Olympics couch behind this weekend as it’s the last chance to catch two of this year’s arty highlights: Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro (until Aug 11), and Henry Moore (above) at the Gagosian (Aug 18). Even better, both are only a pleasant amble along the Regent’s Canal.

Before joining the path at Royal College Street, don’t miss the Cob Gallery. This is one of our favourite contemporary art spaces, stylishly transcending its chicken-shop surrounds. We particularly liked previous exhibition The Yellow Wallpaper, works by young female artists interpreting an 1892 feminist text about repression and madness. Its current show ends today – a video installation by Simon Farid (which we have yet to see, alas).


After a fifteen minute walk along the canal, past ace waterside boozer The Constitution, and the Camley Street Lock, with its narrowboats and semi-rural feel (juxtaposed with the high-speed line directly behind), it’s worth pausing at the imposing new Central Saint Martins building and Granary Square, the European style piazza with child-friendly water jets that’s already hosted a few Olympics-related bashes.

Cross the canal and pass Shrimpy’s to King’s Place, the mighty arts centre beneath Guardian HQ. On our visit the main gallery space was showing works by Kentish Town legend Paula Rego, as well as the Chapman Brothers, Bob and Roberta Smith, and many others. And we always love a chilled glass of vino at the Rotunda, the modern European restaurant with deckchairs on a terrace overlooking Ice Wharf, one of King’s Cross’s hideaways.

But we didn’t linger, instead continuing south down York Way to our first real stop, the Gagosian on Britannia Street. Many of us are familiar with Henry Moore from trips to the gardens at Kenwood House, but seeing his vast work in the white confines of a gallery is awe-inspiring. Large Two Forms (1966, main pic) is a revelation: a work to be experienced by walking through and around the overlapping shapes, it’s tangible and intense.

Winding through Islington (to avoid the mile-long Tunnel) we again joined the canal east of Duncan Square, where a picturesque stretch of narrow boats leads to the Wenlock Basin, and the more typical glass-fronted apartment blocks and converted warehouses.

At the Narrowboat pub, which opens out onto the water, we left to visit the Victoria Miro. Grayson Perry’s TV series on Taste was memorable, but seeing these related tapestries hanging in this most beautiful of London galleries – complete with willow-tree pond and alfresco cupcake stall at its rear – was a different experience altogether.

‘They tell the story of class mobility,’ says Perry, ‘for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our aesthetic taste as the social class in which we grow up.’

The six tapestries in The Vanity Of Small Differences, influenced by Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress, are woven on computerised looms, and packed with cultural references as they document the rise and fall of ‘Tim’ from Sunderland. ‘All that money and he dies in the gutter,’ the nurse is quoted in grey lettering on the final panel.

The gallery was packed, as it was just after the TV show had ended, and visitors treated the works with an almost divine reverence. Perry’s earlier work the Walthamstow Tapestry may have had more impact for this scribe, but the current exhibition is a poignant reflection on modern life – and worth catching before it ends this weekend.

And it’s worth underlining too that every gallery on this trip has no admission fee – the essence of our Free Weekend series.

Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road N1
Gagosian, 6 Britannia St WC1

Words & Pics: Stephen Emms

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