Located within the Southbank Centre complex, the Hayward Gallery is a significant institution that is dedicated to showcasing contemporary and modern art. Along with other major art venues in the area such as the Royal Festival Hall, British Film Institute, Royal National Theatre, and Queen Elizabeth Hall, it was constructed for the Festival of Britain in 1951 as a focal point for the arts. The gallery, which was built in 1968, is named after Sir Isaac Hayward of the London County Council, and has since become renowned for its distinctive Brutalist architecture.
As an art gallery, the Hayward is notable for the way in which its building is as much an artwork as the pieces it contains. This was initially a point of controversy, with the building’s Brutalist style and massive concrete structure being heavily criticized. However, it has now become recognized as an exceptional example of a short-lived but influential trend in urban architecture.
The gallery comprises five exhibition spaces across two levels, including three outdoor sculpture courts that have been described as “huge concrete trays.” Notably, the gallery does not have a permanent collection, but instead serves as a platform for three to four exhibitions annually. While most of these exhibitions are focused on contemporary art, the Hayward also embraces art from different time periods and from around the world, having hosted past exhibitions on Leonardo da Vinci and French Impressionism.
In recent years, the gallery has tended to showcase modern art that complements the imposing architecture of the building. The Hayward has established a reputation for encouraging innovative artists and adventurous artistic concepts, which often result in controversial shows.
Operating independently of state funding, the Hayward Gallery charges an admission fee and relies on its touring exhibition program and artist-in-residence program to support its activities. Despite its distinctive Brutalist style and unconventional approach, the gallery has become an integral part of the cultural landscape of the South Bank, and continues to attract art enthusiasts and visitors from around the world.