07.04.2015
14:32

Tate Modern

Address:

Bankside, SE1 9TG

Phone:

020-7887 8888

Website:

www.tate.org.uk

Opening times:

Daily 10:00-18:00

How to get there:

Tube: Southwark. Tube/Station: Blackfriars and London Bridge

Entry fee:

Free (admission charge for special exhibitions)

Additional information:

Restaurants, cafés and shops

Tate is a family of galleries whose large collection is displayed over four sites: the two major London galleries, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, as well as Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives, in Cornwall. For many, the name Tate is synonymous with modern art and the controversies that surround it: the infamous ‘Bricks’ and the annual Turner Prize. Tate in fact has two roles: it houses the national collection of British art, from 1500 to the present day (displayed at Tate Britain); and the national collection of post- 1900 international art (displayed at Tate Modern and outside London). This dual purpose dates back to the early years of the gallery’s foundation, in 1897, by the sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate. An annexe of the National Gallery, the Tate displayed Sir Henry Tate’s personal collection of British art, which he had presented to the nation, as well as other British works transferred from Trafalgar Square. The gallery’s role soon expanded to incorporate modern foreign art for which, at the time, the National Gallery’s administration had little enthusiasm. It was not until 1955 that the Tate gained full independence. The gallery’s site on Millbank became increasingly inadequate to display these two collections and in the late 20th century decisive action was taken, resulting in the opening in 2000 of Tate Modern, in the dramatically transformed Bankside power station. The old Millbank site, rebranded Tate Britain, has reverted to its founding concept, as a gallery dedicated to British art.

Both galleries command imposing positions on the river: on Millbank, just beyond the Palace of Westminster; and at Bankside, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. The two are linked by the Tate riverboat service (every 40mins during gallery opening hours). Tate Britain’s angular steel pier is designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield (designers of the London Eye), and its evening light effects by the artist Angela Bulloch. The exterior of the sleek catamaran (coloured spots) was designed by Damien Hirst.

Below is an outline of each gallery, their buildings and the major collection highlights. It should be noted that displays at both change annually, and by no means the entire collection is on show at one time. Modern and contemporary British art is shown at both sites.

 

Tate Modern is one of the most popular museums of modern art in the world. Opened in 2000, in its first five years over 22 million visitors passed through its doors. Converted from Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Bankside Power Station, built after the Second World War to provide the City with electricity, it looms heavy and massive on the south bank of the Thames. An international architectural competition for the conversion of the site was won by the Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron, who retained the stark industrial character of the building. Externally it has been little altered. A powerful horizontal mass of red brick, alleviated by immense vertical windows, is bisected by a tall central chimney. A two-storey light box has been added to the roofline, a gleaming white beam at night, housing a restaurant with spectacular views over the river to the City and St Paul’s Cathedral. The new pedestrian Millennium Bridge links Tate Modern to the north side of the river. Designed by Sir Norman Foster with Anthony Caro, an architect-sculptor partnership, it was quickly nicknamed ‘the wobbly bridge’ when it was found to sway alarmingly underfoot, a problem since rectified at considerable expense.

The entrance is either from the riverfront or through the great west entrance, down a vast concrete ramp straight into the Turbine Hall. Five hundred feet long and 150ft high, this is the heart of the building, the mighty nave of an industrial cathedral. Stripped of its turbine engines, the cavernous space is now a dramatic arena for the display of sculpture and installations of enormous scale. Specially commissioned pieces have included Louise Bourgois’s giant, crouching spider; Anish Kapoor’s Marsyas, a massive Triffid-like organic form suspended in the air and coloured the dark maroon of flayed flesh; and, most spectacularly, Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, with the vast space of the Hall bathed in the golden light of a huge setting sun positioned at the east end. Crowds were drawn to it, sitting silent and transfixed beneath the mirrored ceiling.

In the riverfront block new floor divisions have been created, with galleries for the display of the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. Of varying heights, many have dramatic side-lighting from the original vertical strip windows, stretching from floor to ceiling with unexpected views of St Paul’s. Although the power station was decommissioned in 1981, an operational switch station remained in part of the south building, but a multi-million-pound redevelopment of this area of the gallery is planned, providing further display space for installations, film and video.

 

The Collection

Tate Modern is devoted to the Tate’s collection of post-1900 international art. In the early decades of the 20th century the gallery’s administration viewed modern art with conservative caution, resulting in the collection’s weaknesses in this area, weaknesses which are still apparent today. In the post-war era, however, modern art was acquired with enthusiasm, particularly from the 60s and 70s, and Tate has many major works, spanning painting, drawing, sculpture, installation and conceptual art, photography, film, video and artists’ books. The collection of Surrealist works, for example, is particularly strong, as is the modern and contemporary collection of British art, which Tate represents comprehensively and in depth. Although Tate Britain is officially the home of British art, 20th-century British works are shown at both sites: the rich collection of works by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and David Hockney, for example, allows for major works by these artists to be shown at both buildings. The collection covers mainly Western art, Latin America and Asia are also included.

The permanent collection displays have discarded the traditional chronological progression through the modern art movements, or ‘isms’, in favour of a thematic approach, by some regarded as a brave, fresh move, by others as a recipe for confusion. At time of writing the themes are divided into four broad sections based on the main painting genres: history painting; portraiture and figurative art; landscape; and still life. Change is due in 2006, when, for the next six years, themes will focus on the collection’s strengths, on artistic movements, and also on international cultural exchange.

 

Post-Impressionism

The Tate’s history is inextricably linked to to that of the National Gallery, and many of the latter’s fine Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works were originally displayed at the Tate on Millbank. The dividing line between Tate Modern and the National Gallery is now accepted as 1900, although there are some exceptions. Tate’s collection of Post-Impressionists, and stylistically associated younger generation artists, contains fine works, the most exceptional and well known probably being Monet’s large Water-Lilies (after 1916), the focus of the large canvas the evanescent play of light on the pond and its flowers. Also in the collection is Manet’s Nude on a Couch (1915); Camille Pissarro’s Self-Portrait (1903); Cézanne’s The Grounds of the Château Noir (1900–06), and The Gardener Vallier (c. 1906); Seurat’s Le Bec du Hoc, Grandchamp (1885); van Gogh’s Farms near Auvers (1890); and Gauguin’s Faa Iheihe (1898), painted in Tahiti. Degas’ famous Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880–81, cast c. 1922), of bronze, with a muslin skirt and satin hair ribbon, the largest and most important of his sculptures, was purchased in 1952 for £8,000, a sum which caused controversy at the time. Rodin’s The Kiss (1901–04) shows the lovers Paolo and Francesca from Dante’s ‘Inferno’, naked and locked in their first embrace, their polished bodies contrasting with the hewn rock they sit on. Bonnard’s The Table (1925) was bought a year after it was painted, and The Bath (1925) is one of the many paintings Bonnard made of his wife, Berthe, bathing. Ever popular are Raoul Dufy’s brightly coloured Open Window at Saint-Jeannet (c. 1926–27) and The Wheatfield (1929).

 

Early to mid-20th century

Matisse’s The Snail (1953), the greatest of his late ‘cut gouaches’, composed of vividly coloured rectangles of cut paper arranged roughly in the spiral of a snail, was one of the gallery’s major acquisitions, though it also caused controversy when bought, in 1962. Cubist works include still lifes by Braque, including Clarinet and Bottle of Rum (1911), and a large collection of works by Picasso. An early work is the melancholic Jeune Femme en Chemise (c. 1905). Even earlier is his Flowers (1901), the first Picasso to enter the collection. Purchased in 1933, its conservatism is evidence of the gallery’s resistance at the time to the more radical elements of modernism. The Three Dancers (1925) is a major work and Weeping Woman (1937), an allegory of republican Spain, is one of several painted following the bombardment of Guernica. Other works include Juan Gris’s The Sunblind (1914); Fernand Léger’s The Acrobat and his Partner (1948); and several sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz.

Early 20th-century sculpture includes works by the influential Romanian artist Brancusi, including his bronze, metal and wood Fish (1926), and Maiastra (1911), a bronze bird standing on a stone base; Jean Arp’s bronze Pagoda Fruit (1949); Modigliani’s elongated Head (c. 1911–12); and the Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s bronze Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913, cast 1972). Of great importance is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a urinal offered for exhibition in 1917. The most famous of his ‘ready-mades’, ordinary objects designated works of art by the artist, it is an important precursor to Surrealist works, as well as to conceptual art.

 

Surrealism

Tate has a large and important collection of Surrealist works, the movement launched in Paris in 1924 by French poet André Breton. Salvador Dalí’s dream-like works, windows onto the mind, include his important Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), while Lobster Telephone (1936) confronts the rational with its impossible combination of objects. Other works include Joan Miró’s Head of a Catalan Peasant (1925); Magritte’s The Reckless Sleeper (1928) and Man with a Newspaper (1928); and Max Ernst’s Celebes (1921), Men Shall Know Nothing of This (1923), and Forest and Dove (1927). Georgio de Chirico’s The Uncertainty of the Poet (1913) shows a classical antique torso in a piazza with a bunch of bananas. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943) is one of Dorothea Tanning’s best known works, showing a girl on a wide landing coming upon a giant sunflower. The sculptor Alberto Giacometti, better known for his skeletal figures—Man Pointing (1947)—was a former Surrealist, and Tate has his Hour of the Traces (1930).

 

Abstraction

Works by one of the pioneers of abstraction, Kandinsky, include Cossacks (1910–11) and the highly geometric Swinging (1925). Other important early abstract pieces are Malevich’s Dynamic Suprematism (1915/16) and works by the Dutch De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian: Sun, Church in Zeeland (1910) and Composition with Grey, Red, Yellow and Blue (1920–c. 1926). Tate has an important collection of works by the Russian constructivist Naum Gabo, a pioneer of abstract sculpture, including Head No. 2 (enlarged version 1964), Model for ‘Column’ (1920–21) and Construction in Space with Crystalline Centre (1938–40), all of them sculptural explorations of form and space. American Abstract Expressionist pieces include de Kooning’s The Visit (1966–67) and several works by Jackson Pollock. His major early drip painting is Summertime: Number 9A (1948), the paint splashed in a rhythmic pattern. Vast-scale colour-field Abstract Expressionist pieces include Mark Rothko’s famous ‘Seagram Murals’, commissioned in 1958 for a restaurant in Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building on Park Avenue, New York. Rothko changed his mind about their destination and they came to Tate instead, which had begun negotiations with the artist about a possible donation of a work in the mid-1960s. It is said that as the works arrived at the gallery, news came of Rothko’s suicide. The large, magnificent, luminous works, combinations of maroon and black, are among the gallery’s major holdings.

 

Later 20th century

American Pop Art, inspired by consumer culture, Hollywood and celebrity, advertising and commercial mass production, includes Jasper Johns’ Dancers on a Plane; Roy Lichtenstein’s well-known Whaam! (1963); Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962); and the sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s Soft Drainpipe: Blue (Cool) Version (1967). The Continental European equivalent to Pop was Nouveau Réalisme. Tate has works by, among others, Tinguely, Yves Klein and Arman, one of its leading exponents, including Condition of Woman I (1960).

The large collection of conceptual art includes works by the American Bruce Nauman and the hugely influential pioneer of performance art, the German Joseph Beuys, whose installations use organic materials such as fat, wax and rock. Works include Fat Transformation Piece (1972), and The End of the Twentieth Century (1983–85), 40 basalt columns lying on the ground, each with an ‘eye’—a polished cone of stone fixed with clay and felt. Works incorporating real objects as the stuff of art include Marcel Broodthaers’s Casserole and Closed Mussels (1964), and Rebecca Horn’s Concert for Anarchy (1990), a grand piano suspended upside down with its keys spilling out. American minimalist pieces include Carl Andre’s infamous ‘Bricks’ (Equivalent VIII; 1966), plain bricks arranged in a neat rectangle, which caused a storm of indignation and hilarity when acquired in 1972, and have ever since been taken as evidence of the meaninglessness of modern art. Other works include Frank Stella’s Six Mile Bottom (1960); Sol LeWitt’s Two Open Modular Cubes/Half-Off (1975); Donald Judd’s Untitled (1980), units of steel, aluminium and perspex marching up the wall in a vertical stack; and Robert Morris’s Untitled (1965/71), four large reflective cubes of mirror-plate glass on board. In 1971 Morris famously constructed a minimal gymnasium at the Tate which invited the active involvement of exhibition visitors. Eventually it had to close due to injury of members of the public as well as to the exhibit. Other sculpture includes works by Richard Serra, and David Smith’s Cubi XIX (1964), brushed stainless steel geometric forms, balanced on top of each other.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
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Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
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Shakespeare’s Globe
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Royal Academy of Music Museum
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Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
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Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
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Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
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National Gallery
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Musical Museum
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Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
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The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
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Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
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Leighton House
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