Over-hyped and Over-rated

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by TianjinPaul on August 8, 2012

Prior to visiting Tate Modern, everything I had heard about Britain's National Gallery for modern art had been overwhelmingly positive. Newspaper reviews I read heralded it's originality and mould-breaking exhibits whilst friends of mine used adjectives such as "breathtaking" and unmissable. Sadly, when my girlfriend and I visited on our whistle-stop tour of London's top cultural sights, we were bitterly disappointed and came away wondering if we had missed something that had captured everyone else's imaginations.

We started in the basement of the gallery in the area known as the 'Tanks'. This was set aside for audio-visual exhibits. Unfortunately, they were all rather tame. There was a video montage taken on an over-head camera that showed a restaurant area as the tables were changed and guests ate lunch. It left us rather bemused and straight away had us begging the question, "is this art?". It was followed by an exhibit featuring the work of a Korean artist, the centre-piece of which was a black-and-white video of a car journey through the streets of Seoul. We watched for five minutes, but very little actually happened. Again, we left the exhibit a little bemused.

The floors above ground-level were more 'traditional' (if that is the right word for modern art) and featured paintings and sculptures. However, again, there were not too many pieces that genuinely jumped out and grabbed the attention. There were scores of pieces that we felt seemed to lack originality and were, at times, rather infantile.

This all sounds very negative and – perhaps – makes me sound like something of a philistine. Therefore, I feel I should really try to take the opportunity to add some balance to the review. There was a room of Mark Rothko pictures that were absolutely wonderful. They were large and – as you might expect with Rothko – wonderfully soft and almost hypnotic. There was also a fascinating display of 1930s anti-fascism posters and magazine covers that were both artistically gripping and artistically fascinating.

Tate Modern put me in mind of a couple of other art projects that I have experienced. There was 798 in Beijing and MAMAC in Nice. Both of these are modern art galleries housed in unusual buildings (The Guggenheim's might also qualify for this classification). 798 is a former factory and MAMAC is a beautifully designed new building full of curves and colour. Tate Modern is similar as it is housed in an old power station, which is architecturally and visually stunning. However, in my humble opinion, both MAMAC and 798 have more artistic substance within their walls than Tate Modern, which relies too much on the stunning surroundings the make an impact on the visitor.

Tate Modern is situated on the south bank of the River Thames close to the Millennium Bridge, directly opposite St Paul's Cathedral. Admission, thankfully, is free.
Tate Modern
Sumner Street
London, SE1 9TG
+44 20 7887 8000


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