The Culture24 guide to art galleries at British seaside resorts

| 22 July 2013

Follow Culture24's guide to the best seaside art galleries and grab yourself a brief diversion from the amusement arcades and the donkey rides this summer...

a photo of a large building on a seafront
© Richard Bryant/
Blackpool: The Grundy Art Gallery

As the biggest and brashest of our seaside resorts, Blackpool might not spring to mind as a place for contemporary art. But just a few strides away from the lights, the fish and chips and the hordes of holidaymakers you will find one of the UK’s coolest contemporary art spaces.

The Grundy Art Gallery is a real surprise – home to a series of contemporary visual art exhibitions which manage to offer something different while often referencing Blackpool’s heritage and contemporary culture.

Hastings: Jerwood Art Gallery 

Amid the redolent whiff of donuts, candy floss and fish and chips sits the Jerwood Gallery; right in the heart of Hastings' Old Quarter.

Its architecture mimics the famous fishermen’s sheds nearby but inside the cool and spacious galleries accommodate the Jerwood collection of 20th and 21st century art as well as an impressive roster of temporary exhibitions – with the accent on painting.

Bournemouth: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery

Bournemouth has its fair share of striking architectural gems, ranging from Victorian to Art Deco. So it probably comes as no surprise to find one of the most picturesque art galleries in the UK here too.

The Russell-Cotes is renowned for its Victorian Art collection, but the building that houses it - East Cliff Hall - is equally revered. It’s a unique building mixing Scottish, Italian and Moorish styles to deliver a gallery that deserves the often overused epithet “best kept secret”.

Bexhill-on-Sea: De La Warr Pavilion

Bexhill may not be the brashest or busiest of traditional seaside destinations but it boasts a 1930s Pavilion that is one of the most important Modernist buildings in the UK.

De La Warr Pavilion is today home to a contemporary art venue blending bold music with an art exhibition programme featuring works by the likes of Joseph Beuys, Jeremy Deller, John Cage and Ben Nicholson, to name but a few. Little wonder it’s at the forefront of the town’s ambitious seafront redevelopment.

Llandudno: Oriel Mostyn

The largest seaside resort in Wales boasts one of the largest contemporary art spaces in the country. At Mostyn you will find five galleries showing a frequently revolving and ambitious series of exhibitions featuring the best of Welsh and international talent.

The architecture’s not bad either – with a cool contemporary feel lurking behind a beautiful period terracotta façade.

Aberystwyth: Aberystwyth Arts Centre

The bustling seaside town of Aberystwyth has a lot going for it – including a university, the National Library of Wales and Wales’ largest arts centre.

Sited at the heart of the Aberystwyth University campus, the latter's busy programme of films dance and music also features a contemporary art strand which sees up to four exhibitions showing at any one time.

Margate: Turner Contemporary

Much has been said about the declining fortunes - and the efforts to revive them - at one of our most famous seaside towns, but visitors to Margate can’t fail to be impressed by the contemporary art gallery that now sits on the seafront.

Part of the town’s regeneration strategy, Turner Contemporary (pictured above) is a David Chipperfield designed monument to art and light that boasts a rolling programme of exhibitions, with one or two Turner masterpieces thrown into the mix for good measure. 

St Ives: Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Following her wish to establish her former home and studio as a museum of her work, the Barbara Hepworth Museum is a fantastic celebration of one of Britain’s most important 20th century artists.

Working in tandem with Tate St Ives, her sculptures in bronze, stone and wood are displayed in the sculpture garden, while Trewyn Studio houses the artist’s paintings, drawings and archive material. Oh, and Tate St Ives is a must visit too –  but you knew that already...

Eastbourne: Towner Art Gallery

Towner is a bright and airy contemporary art space, a mere stone’s throw from one of our more traditional and pleasantly sedate seafronts. 

Mixing cutting edge exhibitions with a changing programme which explores and reinterprets its collection, it makes for a surprising and refreshing addition to the resolutely genteel seaside town.

Southend-on-Sea: Focal Point and Beecroft Art Gallery

Essex’s traditional seaside town boasts two galleries: Focal Point provides the cutting edge contemporary angle with the accent on lens-based media and experimentation.

At Beecroft Art Gallery at the Westcliffe-on-Sea end of town you will find a fine old Edwardian building with estuary views and a varied collection ranging from 17th century Dutch paintings to contemporary works. The temporary exhibition programme is pretty lively too.

Brighton: Fabrica and Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

As well as accommodating the needs of hedonistic revellers, London-by-the-sea is also home to hundreds of contemporary artists and a vibrant art scene. But where can you experience this artiness?

Try Fabrica - a deconsecrated church turned gallery in the centre of town with a neat line in installation art - or Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which hosts a Jeff Koons exhibition this summer.

Scarborough: Scarborough Art Gallery

Scarborough Art Gallery sits within the town's beautiful Crescent Gardens. It is a fitting place for an art collection taking in everything from dramatic nautical paintings to 20th century prints by the likes of Frank Brangwyn and John Piper.

The lively exhibition programme brings in local, national and international artworks. This summer there's a sparkling trawl through Scarborough's tourism heyday via the art and posters of the time.

Walton-on-the-Naze: The Naze Tower 

Amid the genteel charms of this pretty little seaside town sits the imposing Naze Tower – an 18th century observation post commanding views across the local countryside.

The artwork inside isn’t bad either – mainly locally sourced paintings, etchings, linocuts and jewellery displayed across four of the tower’s six floors. It’s a good place to pick up a painting by East Anglian based artists on your way to the tea room at the top.

Falmouth: Falmouth Art Gallery

This buzzing seaside college town with its impressive six beaches boasts an art gallery with a collection encompassing Victorian masters, British Impressionism, maritime art and contemporary painters and printmakers.

The exhibition programme is pretty lively too – as is the family friendly approach which, among other things, has resulted in one of the best kids’ workshop programmes in the UK.
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