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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

Southbank Centre's Hayward Gallery: A Brief History

What is the Hayward Gallery?

The Haywood Gallery is a London art gallery featuring innovative exhibitions in a Brutalist 1960s building.

Hayward Gallery at Southbank Centre

Always critical and enquiring, the Hayward Gallery is a pioneering force in the visual arts. It values the unorthodox and the adventurous and loves to take risks. But the Hayward Gallery is as famous for its architecture as for its art. The austere concrete building housing the collections is an icon of 1960s Brutalist architecture, a style characterised by the extensive use of exposed, poured concrete and imposing geometrical structures. This cutting-edge gallery is one of the finest examples of Brutalist architecture in the UK. Love it or hate it, the Hayward Gallery is also one of London’s most distinctive landmarks.

A History of the Haywood Gallery

Since its inaugural retrospective of Matisse in 1968, the Hayward has hosted in-depth exhibitions of many of the world’s most innovative and influential artists. Its 2019 major retrospective of celebrated British artist Bridget Riley, spanning 70 years of the artist’s working life, is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date.

The gallery has no permanent collection, but holds several major shows each year, presenting a wide range of internationally acclaimed artists and practitioners. It also hosts a touring exhibition programme. This vital service brings contemporary art to less high-profile venues around the UK. The gallery’s broad exhibition policy embraces visual art from all periods, and so its five imposing interior galleries have hosted a wildly original line-up ranging from the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci to modern and contemporary figures such as Yves Klein, Anish Kapoor and the American street photographer Diane Arbus. Since its opening, the detailed solo exhibitions and ambitious group shows for which the Hayward is famous have helped define contemporary art.

The Hayward Gallery is part of the Southbank Centre, a complex of five artistic venues on the South Bank of the River Thames. It comprises three main performance venues; the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room, as well as the Saison Poetry Library – a free public collection of modern and contemporary poetry publications. The Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre and has made this a thriving cultural area of London.

Since 1986, the Hayward Gallery has been managing the Arts Council Collection. This national collection of nearly 8,000 works of modern and contemporary British art was founded in 1946 as a ‘museum without walls’. It aims to promote and encourage the appreciation of contemporary art through touring exhibitions. The Hayward Gallery’s management of the Arts Council Collection has added further diversity to its own innovative in-house and touring exhibition programme.

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