My best dates? They are all in galleries. You might think of my date's nudes in my phone galleries and specified albums, but not only that. Call me a nerd, an old-school romantic — but I love date nights and evenings when you two go to see an exhibition. London galleries, posh or unknown, can be the sweetest settings for a cool date night.
Really, picture it. Conversation starters are hanging on the walls so you don’t have to worry about breaking the ice on a first date on your own. You can be deep and sincere, quirky or smart, you can just be funny and have a laugh. Or share any art history fun facts to impress your match. Even if you just memorised all the info from Wikipedia the night before. I won’t tell.
Gallery exhibitions on London can be so private, even when they’re public. Organising a midweek date at a big exhibition can end up feeling like you’re getting lost together in a quiet maze. Whispers so you have to get close. Hand-holding to guide each other through the show. It’s much more sensitive than a busy restaurant or a bar. I always suggest first dates at galleries.
London is always full of good shows. You can always check the locations below for your own date night ideas. Here are my picks to enjoy this springtime.
Lubaina Himid at Tate Modern
This exhibition is full of huge, special paintings. They are delicious. If you’re not familiar, Lubaina Himid is an artist best known for her contribution to the Black Arts Movement, when Black and Asian artists made work during the 60s and 70s that spoke to politics, identity, the white establishment and wider society. Lubaina also won the Turner Prize in 2017 — and I say all this so you can skip the Wikipedia study session, make notes! She studied theatre design back in the day and then made a smooth transition into the arts, bringing with her training that would see her turn the gallery into a lively, theatrical space. You can get a sense of that here. Her paintings are surreal but not in that dry, Dali, shock jock way. They contains deep stories, memories and dreams. Ah.
After you’ve finished dreaming together, you can linger in the gift shop or head to a pub along the river. They’re all kind of quaint down there: Ye Olde London, Ye Olde Watling, The Royal Oak. The Founder’s Arms has a nice view of St Paul’s and the river. The Lord Nelson is a bit further towards Southwark, but it might be suitable because it’s where the art students mill about in the evening. A post-show debrief is vital, anyway. A drink, a packet of crisps to share. Stare into each other’s eyes across the table while you complain about the ticket prices — that’s love.
Bankside, Holland Street, SE1 9TG. Open until October 2
Amie Siegel at Thomas Dane
There’s a thin quiet street that runs opposite the Royal Academy, round the corner from Fortnum & Mason, and it’s called Duke Street St James’s. It’s full of contemporary spaces, but as central as a spot as it is, every time I go into any of them they’re always completely empty. So, the perfect set-up for a date.
Thomas Dane actually has two spots on the road, at number 3 and 11. This spring, there’s an exhibition by Amie Siegel on at the former. She’s big right now. A Chicago artist, her work can currently be seen anywhere from Brazil to Korea. Thomas Dane is showing ‘Bloodlines,’ a film that tracks how important cultural artefacts go between their owners’ stately homes and museum settings, and back again. It’s serious, reflective… and actually, it might be a smooth way to sus out who you’re on a date with. Honestly! These things are important. What do they think about money and class? I would want to know that from the get go. And if they’re on the side of the private collectors, at least you’re in Central London so you can run away into a sea tourists never to be seen again.
3 Duke Street St James’s, SW1Y 6PY. 27 Apr – 23 Jul
Adjoa Armah at Auto Italia
Auto Italia is one of my favourite galleries in London but I have to warn you, the exhibitions are... cerebral. But it’s fine, I’m here to help.
Their next exhibition is by artist, educator, writer and editor Adjoa Armah. Across her multi- layered practice, she is interested in thinking about archives, pedagogy, black ontology and spatial consciousness. This show follows a trip she took along the Ghanaian coast. It presents field recordings of the sea and birds alongside objects gathered along the way. One of the most interesting objectives of this show concerns how the subject is presented in an exhibition setting, and through the grammar of an exhibition. So, how do we take something to show it to other people in another place far away? And what does that mean? Does that have consequences? Does it matter who the audience is, and how different they are or how far away they are from the subject the artist is thinking about in the first place?
These are big questions! And the answers might be there in the exhibition itself, or you might find them between yourselves in deep, studious conversation. Victoria Park is a short walk away, so maybe go there afterwards to let off some steam. Ground yourselves, walk along the edge of the lake, think about the intimate vastness of life! Or throw bread at the ducks instead.
44 Bonner Road, E2 9JS. 28 April – 24 July
Libby Heaney at Arebyte Gallery
Sometimes exhibitions are about looking, sometimes they’re about thinking, and other times they’re about feeling new things. I think all of these categories make for good but different kinds of dates, but that final category can be especially transformative and, in my opinion, especially romantic too. So, we’re ending the list with two shows that invite you to enter strange, curated environments to get in your feelings.
In the new show at Arebyte Gallery, Libby Heaney has created an 360 generative projection called Ent-. The artwork takes as its inspiration the central panel of the very famous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by good ol’ Hieronymus Bosch. That might not be immediately clear to viewers (so make a note of it not to impress your date!) as the imagery is put through quantum code to manipulate and animate the paintings into live scenes. All in all, the work offers a 30 minute experience that is layered with voices that guide the audience through the artist’s vision of a quantum age.
Big brain stuff. But it’s sound, light, space and colour. It’s immersion. It’s something to witness together. I love going to things like this and then walking out into the daylight afterwards, feeling like I’ve just been to another world. I think the experience can really loosen people up. It can make you feel wavy and warm, like you’re one drink in even if you aren’t. It’s a good, open state to be in when dates can feel just as floaty. Lean in, think differently, talk around the weirdness and see how it feels to be weird together.
Java House, 7 Botanic Square, E14 0LG. 27 May – 21 August
Photos: 1 – Courtesy of the artist and Tate Modern, 2 – Thomas Dane Gallery, 3 – Courtesy of Saman Archive, 4 – Arebyte Gallery.