Art at night: London's nocturnal cultural scene
London’s intriguing museums seem to be a daytime concern to passers-by, the culture of the night being the preserve of cinemas and music venues. But there are ways to see great art at night, both in and out of the gallery. Have a peek at our list to find the best spots for and Michelangelo by moonlight and sculpture under the stars.
Every last Friday of the month, the Tate Modern is transformed into a multidisciplinary space of DJs, pop-up talks, debates and performances. Completely free of charge, Tate Lates is a great way to see a famous gallery in a completely new light. You can go and look through the public galleries, dance to the ever-fresh tunes, grab a cocktail or simply people-watch in this arresting and unique central London space.
A similar principle to Tate Lates but on a far larger scale, First Thursdays are now unmissable events in the social lives of the great and the good of East London’s arts world. On the first Thursday (obv) of every month, dozens of galleries throughout East London open late for the first showings of new art, final viewings of old, performances, free drinks and general frivolity. From Whitechapel to Hackney, Dalston to Old Street and Hoxton to Hommerton, dot about from independent gallery to independent gallery sampling the art and wine on offer, or head down to the Whitechapel Gallery for a bus tour of the best on show.
Fine, it’s true that cinemas are already open at night, but Secret Cinema brings film out of the stuffy interiors of the odious odeons of this world and on to the street. Hosting showings of famous audience favourites and cult cinema from throughout the ages, the twist is that Secret Cinema chooses mysterious, intimate locations - often out in the open air - for the projections. Best loved are the cosy summer night affairs when audiences are given headsets so that they can each silently share the enjoyment of watching a familiar classic on their own, but also as a community. Not free, but worth every penny.
British Library Lates
Perhaps you’re getting the hang of the “lates” idea now (an elegant term, nothing to do with an early grave…). Londoners have certainly cottoned on to the idea, with the British Library’s own version one of the most popular in town. Famed for the high-calibre DJs and bands booked to play this distinctive and daunting edifice, Hot Chip and Public Service Broadcasting are amongst the big names to have treaded the boards here. Hopefully all the owlish and disapproving librarians have retired home before the concerts begin. (Be warned: the British Library often enjoys sold-out nights so book early to avoid disappointment.)
So familiar are the vision of the barriers, the sight of the platform and the skull-numbing echoes of “mind the doors please” that many passengers allow the great art of the underground to wash over them. More’s the pity, because Travel for London, the public body which oversees the underground and London’s buses, has made a concerted effort throughout its history to vivify the mundane journeys of commuters and tourists alike. Keep your eyes open and you will see a plethora of artworks from massive to minuscule, often melting into the general industrial background. The author’s favourites include the iconic Eduardo Paolozzi mosaics at Tottenham Court Road and the black-and-white labyrinths of Mark Wallinger, a single one adumbrating each and every station on the network. Check the TfL website for up to date info about what can be seen where.