Our History

Serpentine displays contemporary art across two sites in Kensington Gardens. Serpentine South and Serpentine North are a short distance apart, on either side of the Serpentine Bridge.

Each site hosts about three exhibitions per year. The exhibitions show art, design, architecture, performance, and community projects.

Every year, a different architect creates a new Pavilion. It functions as a café, meeting place and venue for live events throughout the summer.

At Serpentine, we share a vision of free art for all. We are proud that Serpentine has been a free public art institution since it opened in 1970.

Our Galleries

Serpentine South

A view of Serpentine South in the spring sunshine showing its setting in the verdant park.

This is also where you’ll find the Pavilion architecture commission every summer. 

Since opening, the gallery has celebrated a wide range of emerging and acclaimed artists. In recent years, we’ve exhibited paintings by Hilma af Klint, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Faith Ringgold.

Serpentine has also shown large-scale installations, including Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s floating sculpture. And, in 2014, premiered a new, 512-hour durational performance by Marina Abramović. The gallery also includes the art bookshop Koenig Books.

Before opening as an art gallery in 1970, the Serpentine South building was a tea-room. Designed by J. Grey West and built in 1934, it replaced earlier refreshment rooms that had opened in 1855. 

It opened as a gallery in 1970. At first, the Gallery showed work by young British artists from around the country. For the first three years, it didn’t have central heating and was only open in the summer. The installation of central heating enabled winter exhibitions. These winter exhibitions displayed art by more established artists from different countries.

Serpentine North

A view of the older part of Serpentine North in the sunshine with people coming and going through the front entrance.

Serpentine North opened in 2013. James Barnor, P. Staff, Rose Wylie and Etel Adnan have all exhibited.

Serpentine North is a building in two parts. a classical 19th-century brick structure and its 21st-century extension. The 19th-century part of the building was a gunpowder store until the early 1960s. The park then used it as storage until it became a gallery. Inside, there are two barrel-vaulted former gunpowder stores now used as exhibition spaces.

Zaha Hadid’s extension is a light-filled, open social space housing our restaurant. Serpentine North also includes the Serpentine Shop.

Serpentine Pavilion

Serpentine Pavilion
An aerial shot of the front and top of the Serpentine Pavilion 2023. A central pathway leads up to the low roofed wooden structure. The roof looks like a concertinaed fan laying on top of wooden supports. Wooden fretwork lines the outer walls. Stood on the path in front of the pavilion is Lina Ghotmeh, the architect, wearing a bright flowing red outfit.
Lina Ghotmeh by Harry Richards for Serpentine 2023

Serpentine’s annual architectural commission showcases new temporary buildings by international architects.

A new Pavilion opens every summer and hosts live programmes and events. Park Nights, a series of new performance commissions, takes place in the Pavilion. From art to music, dance to literature, Park Nights supports emerging artists.

Art in the Park

Ian Hamilton Finlay Benches
A close up of Ian Hamilton Finlay's dark grey stone circle engraved with poetry.
Visit Ian Hamilton Finlay’s permanent display in the grounds of Serpentine South.
The artwork comprises benches, a tree plaque and a stone circle. Finlay’s stone circle features the names of all the trees that you can find in Kensington Gardens. The eight benches feature poetry. And the tree plaque quotes the Latin poet Virgil’s Ecologues.
The work is dedicated to Lady Diana Frances Spencer, the late Princess of Wales. She was Serpentine’s Patron from 1993 to 1996.

The circle sits just outside the gallery entrance and contains the Latin and English names of trees from the park: oak, lime, elm, copper beech, poplar, alder, ash, yew, hornbeam, chestnut, hawthorn. Inside six tight outer rings I put a beautiful quotation from the 18th-century philosopher Francis Hutcheson: ‘The beauty of trees, their cool shades, and their aptness to conceal from observation have made groves and woods the usual retreat to those who love solitude, especially to the religious, the pensive, the melancholy, and the amorous.’ The centre was blank. It was as though that space had been left to take Diana’s name.

— Ian Hamilton Finlay


Discover over 50 years of the Serpentine

From the architectural Pavilion and digital commissions to the ideas Marathons and research-led initiatives, explore our past projects and exhibitions.

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