on December 26, 2005
Following a visit to the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, we decided to take in the neighbouring Tate Modern as well. Its home, the vast former power plant now linked to St Paul's Cathedral by the new millennium footbridge across the Thames, seems an implausible home for a major art museum. A remarkable combination of the old and the new, the brick-clad steel building’s central chimney rears 325 feet (99m), only fractionally lower than the dome of St Paul's Cathedral.The most noticeable change to the outside of the former power station is a two-storey glass construction spanning the roof. It provides natural light into the galleries on the top floors and houses a café offering outstanding views across London. Inside, while three floors offer exhibition space, the cavernous cathedral-like Turbine Hall still exists as a challenge to artists and curators.In the 5 years since Tate Modern opened, it has become a huge social, profitable, and artistic success. Even more than Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, which opened 100 yards away in 1997, Tate Modern energized the long-neglected Southwark neighbourhood. Art galleries and restaurants have sprung up while renovations and new buildings have appeared. Tate Modern draws crowds averaging average 11,200 a day, devoted to art but also to hanging out in its large bookstore, its cafes, and its top-floor restaurant overlooking the river. Looking across to St Paul’s Cathedral is like looking at an art show in itself.Art museums tend to be a mixture of art, pretentiousness, and plain silliness. Examples of the latter: The Tate Museum exhibited a sculpture of 120 firebricks arranged in a rectangular formation and another contained frozen elephant dung. "Embankment," the latest in the Unilever series of commissions to use the cavernous Turbine Hall, falls also, I think, either into pretentiousness or the silly category. By Rachel Whiteread, a British sculptor, it consists of a labyrinth-like composition made from 14,000 casts of the insides of different cardboard boxes, stacked to occupy this cathedral-like space. Some popular art, like "The Dancing Butler" by Jack Vettriano, the most expensive Scottish painting sold so far, on the other hand, is not recognised as art by any art museum.However, the pop artist Andy Warhol has won through. He raised celebrity to an art form and is now one of the best-known artists of all time and has an entire floor of the gallery devoted to his exhibition. In his self-portrait, Warhol gazes pensively at the camera. His fingers screen his mouth, and his head, which dissolves into black shadow on one side and is barely perceptible in silver on the other. This mechanically reproduced silkscreen not only removes evidence of the artist’s touch but also disguises his emotional presence. What is missing in Warhol’s flat garish reproductions is as important as what is there.Along with the various free exhibitions, others with an entrance fee were also running. These included Jeff Wall: Photographs and Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris.In all, it is an interesting place to visit!
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