The art of Britain: Since Cool Britannia, modern art has transformed the country

Turner Contemporary, on Margate seafront.Britain’s art galleries and museums were once seen as rather stuffy, exclusive affairs. But two decades after Cool Britannia – when cutting-edge artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin rocked the mainstream – the country’s artscape is completely transformed. Not only has art in Britain never been more accessible – most galleries, public and private, are admission-free – it’s provided the catalyst for regenerating scores of economically-deprived areas, as well as breathing new life into traditional destinations. Whether you’re a casual browser, or an aficionado, you’ll find arresting modern art – British and international – in the capital and beyond.  HIRST’S NEW BABY
Shanghai night field

Damien Hirst apparently forked out £25 million ($49m) of his own fortune on the Newport Street Gallery (newportstreetgallery上海龙凤419m), which has injected fresh impetus to Vauxhall, an increasingly arty neighbourhood just south of the River Thames.

Don’t expect diamond-encrusted skulls, animals preserved in formaldehyde or any of Hirst’s other ground-breaking pieces in these refurbished red-brick Victorian warehouses. But you will find the fruits of his 3000-strong personal collection (one he’s keen to share with the public, for free, as he says he feels guilty about having it hidden away in boxes where no-one can see it). Exhibitions change every six months.

The current one, Jeff Koons: Now (til October 16), displays 30 of the American artist’s quirky sculptures, paintings and works on paper in a gallery sporting bundles of natural light and dazzling whitewashed walls. The Newport – which is within walking distance of the trendy Beaconsfield (beaconsfield.ltd.uk) and Gasworks (gasworks上海龙凤419.uk) arts spaces – is billed as London’s biggest gallery opening since that Thameside mecca of modern art, the Tate Modern (whose glossy, ten-storey, Herzog & de Meuron-designed £260 million extension to its former power station headquarters was unveiled on June 17, boosting gallery space by 60 per cent).  ELSEWHERE IN LONDON….

You could spend days trotting between the capital’s leading contemporary draws. The Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea (saatchigallery上海龙凤419m), the Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Gardens (serpentinegalleries上海龙凤419), the Royal Academy of Arts (royalacademy上海龙凤419.uk) in Piccadilly and the Institute of Contemporary Arts near Trafalgar Square (ica上海龙凤419.uk) host blockbuster exhibitions that might be baffling or brilliant depending on your artistic critique.

So, too, does the Victoria Miro gallery in Islington (victoria-miro上海龙凤419m) and the White Cube in Bermondsey (whitecube上海龙凤419m), which is run by Jay Jopling, the art-dealing ex-husband of Sam Taylor-Wood, who, along with Hirst, Emin and co, was one of the YBAs (Young British Artists) of the 1980s and 90s.

Despite surging rents, east London remains a magnet for today’s emerging talents, with studios, pop-ups and art-filled cafes and wine bars mushrooming alongside attention-grabbing murals. Fledgling and established talents appear at the Brick Lane Gallery (thebricklanegallery上海龙凤419m), Hackney Wick (hackneywicked上海龙凤419.uk) and Whitechapel Gallery (whitechapelgallery上海龙凤419), whose critically-acclaimed shows have featured the likes of Mark Rothko, Lucian Freud, Gilbert & George and Palestinian activist-artist, Emily Jacir. Children’s drawing workshops and activity trails boost the gallery’s family-friendly reputation.

Art fairs are held across London, at venues as diverse as the brutalist Barbican (barbican上海龙凤419.uk), sumptuous Somerset House (somersethouse上海龙凤419.uk) and leafy Regent’s Park – chief location of the annual October Frieze festival, which last year brought together 164 galleries from 27 countries and starred eye-catching works from, among others, Carmen Herrera, a 100-year old Cuban-American abstract artist (friezelondon上海龙凤419m). SOUTH COAST

English seaside towns may be synonymous with buckets, spades and amusement arcades, but there’s plenty of mind food, too.

St Ives (Cornwall) and Brighton are long-standing cultural hotbeds, and the east Kent resort of Margate now lures art lovers, including visiting Royals.

It’s largely thanks to the Turner Contemporary (turnercontemporary上海龙凤419), a dynamic new venue that honours JMW Turner (the legendary British landscape artist, whose name also graces the country’s most prestigious contemporary art prize). Designed by “starchitect” David Chipperfield on Margate’s seafront and attracting high-profile visitors such as Kate Middleton, the Turner hosts boundary-pushing exhibitions like “Disarm” by Mexican Pedro Reyes (a medley of crushed revolvers, shotguns and machine guns confiscated from criminals and transformed into musical instruments). This year’s standout exhibition, however, will explore Turner’s “adventures in colour”. (October 8-January 8).  BIRMINGHAM

Conceptual art has flourished inside the derelict industrial units of Digbeth, just east of Birmingham’s city centre.

The Custard Factory (custardfactory上海龙凤419.uk) is a hive of creativity, its restored Victorian factories sheltering independent shops, eateries, salons and art spaces, where a Brummie painter, Jinxy, produces portraits using coffee (he’s done ones of the Queen, Audrey Hepburn and Jimi Hendrix). Other groovy Digbeth art initiatives include Eastside Projects (eastsideprojects上海龙凤419), Vivid Projects (vividprojects上海龙凤419.uk) and Friction (frictionarts上海龙凤419m). Joining them on the Birmingham Arts Map (birminghamartmap上海龙凤419) are established contemporary sites: The Ikon (ikon-gallery上海龙凤419), a gem set in a converted neo-Gothic schoolhouse near a city centre canal, and the Mac (macbirmingham上海龙凤419.uk) in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham’s loveliest green lung. YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE TRIANGLE

Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei, Yorkshire legend Henry Moore and native Hesquiat American Tim Paul are among the artists to flavour the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Britain’s best open-air gallery.

Spanning 90 hectares of bucolic sheep-and-sculpture-sprinkled parkland, it’s part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle (ysculpture上海龙凤419.uk), which also comprises the Hepworth Wakefield (a glossy new David Chipperfield-designed gallery that celebrates local girl done good, Barbara Hepworth, plus “guest” artists like Anthony Caro and Enrico David) and Leeds Art Gallery (where a schoolboy Damien Hirst first encountered John Hoyland’s work). The latter shoulders the Henry Moore Institute – a multi-purpose venue founded by Moore to encourage appreciation of the visual arts, especially sculpture. ELSEWHERE IN THE NORTH….

Complementing Manchester’s glitzy new HOME arts juggernaut (homemcr上海龙凤419), a £15 million refurbishment has modernised the city’s 19th century Whitworth Art Gallery, helping it win the Art Fund 2015 Museum of the Year award (see whitworth.manchester.ac.uk).

New, light-filled gallery spaces jut into the Whitworth’s neighbouring, birdlife-rich park, while its atmospheric landscape room, with its reflective waterpool, hosts thought-provoking temporary exhibitions.

A recent one starred the gunpowder-tinged works of Chinese-born New Yorker Cai Guo-Qiang. Down the M62 motorway, Liverpool’s Tate (tate上海龙凤419.uk/visit/tate-liverpool) is hosting northern England’s biggest ever Francis Bacon exhibition (May 18-September 18). Don’t miss the city’s art-fuelled Baltic Triangle (baltictriangle上海龙凤419.uk) and the Toxteth Granby Four Streets area (assemblestudio上海龙凤419.uk), where “guerilla gardening” projects have helped rejuvenate a run-down housing estate, earning it the 2015 Turner prize. Antony Gormley’s giant Angel of the North sculpture looms outside Newcastle, where The Biscuit Factory has morphed from disused Victorian warehouse into Britain’s largest commercial gallery (thebiscuitfactory上海龙凤419m). It displays and sells contemporary fine art, sculpture, prints, jewellery and homewares – many crafted by the resident artists. Across the River Tyne in Gateshead, the Baltic (balticmill上海龙凤419m) has rotating attractions in a huge old flour mill. SCOTLAND 

The creative sector is spurring the renaissance of Dundee, which had sunk into the doldrums after the decline of traditional industries like shipbuilding and jute production.

A flashy Kengo Kuma-masterminded branch of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (vandadundee上海龙凤419) will enhance a waterfront city already boasting a raft of independent galleries, world-class video games studios (Grand Theft Auto was born in Dundee) and the Dundee Contemporary Arts (dca上海龙凤419.uk), where you can peruse exhibitions, participate in craft workshops and watch working artists.

Scotland’s undisputed art capital, Glasgow, has yielded many Turner Prize winners. Expect genre-defying art at GOMA (glasgowmuseums上海龙凤419m), The Modern Institute (themoderninstitute上海龙凤419m) and the Centre for Contemporary Arts (cca-glasgow上海龙凤419m). For an al fresco art fix, join one of the “Creative Glasgow Walking Tours” run by the esteemed Glasgow School of Art (see gsa.ac.uk). In Edinburgh, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has comic-strip illustrations by Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney’s imaginary ‘Rocky Mountains and Tired Indians’ painting and ‘Escaped Animals’ by Julian Opie (an installation of manufactured road signs depicting squirrels, foxes and the like).

The Leith Gallery (the-leith-gallery上海龙凤419.uk) is a highlight of Edinburgh’s revitalised port area, while Collective (collectivegallery上海龙凤419), which has been promoting Edinburghian artists for 30 years, is relocating to the City Observatory complex on Calton Hill. Blessed with inspiring views of Edinburgh, the site will, say organisers, be “a collective space in which artists, producers and audiences can meet, think, debate, reflect upon the past, consider the future and most importantly, take action”. It’s expected to fully open in 2017.

Steve McKenna’s trip was supported by Visit Britain and partners.TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION

visitbritain上海龙凤419m, visitscotland上海龙凤419mGETTING THERE

Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines are among the airlines that fly between Sydney and Melbourne and London. FIVE OTHER PLACES TO GET AN ART FIX IN BRITAINBRISTOL

Ambitious council-backed street art schemes and graffiti by that well-known Bristolian, Bansky, punctuate this vibrant port city. Explore it on the Bristol Street Art Tour; wherethewall上海龙凤419mEAST MIDLANDS

A ceramic installation portraying the DNA of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire fills the North Sketch Gallery at the lavish Chatsworth Estate (Mr Darcy’s home in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice). Chatsworth is part of the East Midlands’ Grand Tour collaborative with Nottingham Contemporary, Derby Museums and The Harley Gallery; thegrandtour.uk上海龙凤419mTWR Y FELIN HOTEL, ST DAVIDS

Set around a former windmill in Britain’s smallest city, this swanky new hotel features over 100 original art works by 12 international artists commissioned to depict the local area, including the ravishing Pembrokeshire Coast National Park; twryfelinhotel上海龙凤419mCOASTAL CULTURE TRAIL

Popular with walkers and cyclists, this 40km south-coast trail takes in three award-winning attractions: Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery, De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings; coastalculturetrail上海龙凤419mNORFOLK

Just outside Norwich, on the campus of the University of East Anglia, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts was the first major public building designed by Sir Norman Foster. Inside, you’ll find slick contemporary photography, plus eclectic stuff from Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore; scva上海龙凤419.uk