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What Is the South London Gallery?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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The South London Gallery is a modern art studio and museum in London, England. It is located, as its name implies, in the southern part of the city, between the Peckham and Camberwell neighborhoods. This area of London has been known as a working-class district for centuries. In fact, the South London Gallery was originally opened as a way of bringing art and art education to local day laborers. Original collections focused on art education and the work of South London artists, and while the focus has shifted to the display of contemporary art, the gallery still places an emphasis on education and art appreciation.

Much of the gallery still occupies its original building, which was built in 1891. From the outside, the space does not look like much. It is an unassuming structure that sits just behind a much more ornate Victorian building that now houses the Camberwell College of Arts. The gallery owners are believed to have chosen such an inconspicuous location for their endeavor in order to take some of the awkwardness out of the prospect of working class men studying art. Men would perhaps not feel as out of place walking into an ordinary-looking building as they would one that was clearly dedicated to artistic endeavors.

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In the late 1800s and early 1900s, art was generally regarded as something to be appreciated only by those in the higher echelons of society. The South London Gallery attempted to bridge this divide by offering courses, opening studio space, and displaying collections during evenings and weekends. It was one of the first British museums to be open on Sundays. Most of its exhibitions were and remain still free, though fees can apply to certain special installations or lecture series.

The South London Gallery underwent a major expansion in 2010, but the original gallery and lecture space remains at the core. On its own, the main gallery is little more than a large, empty white room. The gallery usually hosts about five different exhibitions a year, which invite artists to set up installations that make use of the space's bright whiteness and abundant natural light. Most installations are contemporary and minimalist in nature. Shapes, colors, and pattern repetitions are often the foundation of much of the work on display at any given time.

Winning a space in the South London Gallery is usually seen as quite prestigious. The 2010 expansion provided for an artist’s residence above the main gallery, which allows visiting exhibitors to live in community with each other for the duration of their installments. Such a perk is rare among art museums.

Museums and kids usually go well together at the South London Gallery. Many programs for children are hosted by the museum throughout the year, usually focusing on creativity and artistic appreciation. Curators are also usually able to arrange special school tours and private lectures geared to any number of different artistic themes, and can often tailor programming to match school curricula.

Even with its new spaces, the South London Gallery is not large. Visiting museums such as this can be easily accomplished in little more than a morning or afternoon. This often serves to encourage locals and nearby residents to make the museum a part of their community, and to visit and drop by often. In this way, the gallery continues its original goal of reaching out the South London community.

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