Immediately after its opening Tate Modern became the most visited modern art gallery in the world beating its nearest rivals the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Once upon a time there was the Bankside Power Plant on London’s South Bank, a brick building of gargantuan dimensions, designed in 1947 and shut down in 1981. Then there was the Tate Gallery on Millbank with more artefacts in the storerooms than in the exhibition halls. The two came together when it was decided to use the Tate Gallery only for British art and call it Tate Britain forthwith and to exhibit international modern art in the transformed former power plant.
The Swiss architects Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron won the competition, they were they only ones who didn’t intend to demolish most of the building, but reuse a significant portion of the plant. "This is a kind of Aikido strategy where you use your enemy’s energy for your own purposes. Instead of fighting it, you take all the energy and shape it in unexpected and new ways."
They left the 500 ft/152 m long and 115 ft/35m high turbine hall intact as the main entrance hall, kept the taupe walls and black steel girders and put a glass ceiling on top of the building so that all exhibition halls have natural light.
When you walk across the foot bridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames heading towards it, you understand that it could only be nicknamed Cat
hedral Of Cool. Tate Modern is a statement, it just *IS* and couldn’t be otherwise. Getting off the foot bridge you turn right to get to the main entrance, the turbine hall. No counter and till are waiting for the visitors, the admission is FREE!
We arrived around noon and decided to begin with a cup of coffee and a snack in the Café on the 2nd floor, alas, the coffee machine was out of order and we were complimented into the restaurant on the 7th floor. The prices are much higher there, certainly not for students travelling on a shoe string, but you can admire the cityscape from both sides of the building up there and you can take a free copy of the Guardian with you. I did that and so the price for the cappuccino and a sandwich was OK in the end. (I came back to the Café later for refreshment [the coffee machine was working again] which I took on the balcony outside facing the Thames and the City, great view!)
‘Modern’ art refers to the 20th century, I doesn’t make sense to mention the names of the artists whose artefacts you can find here, the rest of the article would be filled, believe me, the great (and not so great) names are all there. The artefacts are displayed neither chronologically nor according to the artists or styles, they’re assembled according to themes.
Getting down from the restaurant one passes the 6th floor which is for members only, the 5th floor offers Nude/Action/Body and History/Memory/Society. It has - same as the 4th and 3rd floor - two entrances, but it doesn’t matter on which side you begin, the about 30 rooms are all connected so that you pass them all once you’ve entered.
Each room has a poster beside the entrance on which an introductory paragraph gives an overall definition of the subject in question, under it the subject is described in more detail. Of course, one can’t read all this information, but wherever I did so, I found it very well written and easy to understand. I really can’t fathom why someone should need courage to look at the artefacts, they don’t do anything to the visitor, they don’t suddenly attack them. They’re there and it’s up to you to go near or to pass by, no work of art will be offended if you do so. Tastes differ, and the next visitor will perhaps be fascinated by just the picture you didn’t want to look at or didn‘t even notice.
The 4th floor is used for Exhibitions for which you have to pay. The themes on the 3rd floor are: Still Life/Object/Real Life and Landscape/Matter/Environment, again presented in an aesthetically pleasing way with excellent descriptions.
What I can’t leave uncommented is the attitude ‘I don’t like much when it comes to modern art and when I think of what gets the Turner Prize I feel sick.’
The Turner Prize can’t be equalled with modern art, it would go too far to discuss it here, just forget it for a moment. When you go to Tate Modern you won’t see it (if you don‘t go there during the time when the work in question is exhibited), what you can see are several thousands of artefacts. You don’t like much? So what? Then you’ll like at least something! Why, I remember exhibitions in which I only liked *one* exhibit, but in case I liked it so much that I integrated it into my imaginary museum, the money wasn’t badly spent. And Tate Modern is free!
"I don’t understand modern art", is a funny remark and can’t be taken seriously. It implies that you understand traditional art. Indeedy!? Do you know the Bible forward and backward, can you understand all the biblical scenes on Gothic altar pieces? Do you know all the Greek gods you find on Renaissance pictures? Do you know the flowers which are depicted so exquisitely and their symbolic meanings? Ha! You’re only used to these pictures more, but you don’t understand them better necessarily.
If you’re a beginner, interested and eager to widen your horizon, you could take an audio guide (1 GBP) with you. I haven’t done so, but my experience with audio guides from other museums is very positive, they’re mostly intelligently made.
Or you could just go and enjoy and encounter art works you’ll never forget and learn to consider as friends. If I hadn’t written so much already I could introduce you to some of my findings, but on second thought why should I? Go there, assemble your own imaginary museum!