Scenic route: feed the spirit with an art walk around Soho

The Observer by Niru Ratnam

Would-be collectors will love exploring this area of the city, which is teeming with exciting spaces showcasing lesser-known and new artists.


The art community has always had a good eye for unloved or underused space, especially in London. While previous decades saw galleries flourish in 1980s Notting Hill, then Shoreditch in the 1990s, now Soho and Fitzrovia are home to small spaces and independent dealers representing diverse artists.

It’s a commercially sensible move as it means collectors can easily visit the upmarket galleries of Mayfair, as well as checking out up and comers in the Soho spaces. It’s also a bonus for the window shopper who just wants to experience new art in interesting spaces.


This walk will take you round a mix of public and commercial galleries and it starts slap bang in the middle of Soho, just round the corner from my gallery. On the corner of Broadwick and Carnaby Street is a piece by Julian Opie. This digital sculpture, Shaida Walking, shows a figure in perpetual motion and seems a good place to start. Look up and you’ll see the Spirit of Soho community mural, a mildly terrifying series of local vignettes topped by a flame-haired woman – St Anne.


Walk north up Carnaby and turn right onto Great Marlborough where the first alleyway on the left takes you to The Photographers’ Gallery. Though many shows here are ticketed, the basement print sales gallery always has something of interest. After this pitstop, keep going down Great Marlborough until you hit Berwick Street. Turn left and head over Oxford Street onto Berners. Stroll past the rather plush Edition Hotel to Alison Jacques Gallery. Shows at this commercial space tend to feature previously overlooked artists, particularly female artists in the later stage of their career. Her roster includes Mária Bartuszová and Sheila Hicks.


From here, take the scenic route to Tottenham Court Road Tube station via Goodge Street and Whitfield Street. Stop in at Castor Gallery and indigo+madder en route, they’re recent arrivals to the area. From there, head down to Oxford Street and the new ticket hall in the Tube which features striking Daniel Buren wall facades that all the commuters ignore.


Taking the escalator up on your right will land you in a new series of public spaces around Centrepoint. The Now Building, a mysterious new hub designed by Orms architecture practice, which is home to Outernet, a new entertainment district full of immersive installations and screens. It’s worth looking at as you’re here, but quickly leave this dystopian vision of future creativity and make your way down Shaftesbury Avenue to Grape Street, where Phillida Reid has opened a new gallery. If you’re quick you can make the Joanna Piotrowska and FormaFantasma show.


Afterwards, turn right at the top of the street and head up New Oxford to Museum Street and the Herald St gallery at number 43. This is home to artists including Pablo Bronstein and Nick Relph. Avoid the tourists and colonial plunder at the British Museum and turn right along Great Russell Street, left up Southampton Row, getting to Queen Square via Cosmo Place. Head north to arrive at Brunswick Square Gardens, your final destination. Here the Foundling Museum sits in the grounds of the old Foundling Hospital. With the help of William Hogarth and composer Handel, the hospital was transformed into the country’s first public art gallery. So we’re ending at the beginning. A fitting way to celebrate the constant reinvention and renaissance of the art world.


October 31, 2022