The Tate Modern art gallery opened in May 2000, in a former power station, on the Thames' south bank opposite St Paul's. The old Bankside power station, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, is a wonderful location for a modern art gallery. There was criticism during its construction that an opportunity had been missed to create an exciting new building in London. But it could also be said that for a modern art gallery the old Bankside power station is an inspired choice. Much modern art reflects the modern world's industrial nature, and the Bankside power station is a huge industrial building. Lighting comes from deep ceiling boxes, so that clean lines are maintained. The floors are either rough-cut unpolished oak, or polished concrete. There is a great variety of gallery space, from the vast Turbine Hall, to small, intimate, individual rooms. There is both a feeling of uniformity, and of individuality, a sense of quality reproduced on a huge scale. For the American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright mass production made it possible for the poor as well as the rich to "enjoy beautiful surface treatments and clean strong forms". The work of individual craftsmen was too expensive for most people to buy, but with mass production, many more individuals could enjoy quality products once only available to the rich. In 1943 Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York to display his vision. The Tate Modern in its beautiful industrial setting expresses, and explores, a similar vision.
Embankment by Rachel Whiteread, Turbine Hall 2005
When I first visited the Tate Modern in 2005, the Turbine Hall had been given over to a work by Rachel Whiteread. The great open space of the hall was full of pristine white boxes piled up in various ways, with little twisting alleys running between them. There was a sense of uniformity, along with a feeling of variety. The boxes themselves seemed to invite you to wonder what might be inside each one. Modern mass production gives everyone a similar box, and yet variety remains. In a way it is impossible for everything to be the same, because people will look at uniformity itself in different ways. Some will see security, dependability, and some will see monotony and boredom. Some will see good things and some bad. Variety builds itself up using crazy piles of identical white boxes.
Many other exhibits invite reflection on life in the modern world. There are so many art works on display, and they change so frequently, that there are countless experiences you might have walking through the galleries. I offer the following little response as an example of what might go through your mind at the Tate Modern:
Walking through the Andy Warhol gallery I stopped in front of his "Factory" studio productions. Lots of Marilyn Monroes looked at me. Repetitive screen printed images were reminiscent of frames on a reel of film. She appeared desperately miserable. Her misery was accentuated by all those photos, as though she was a fragile woman caught in the wheels of a factory churning her out for consumption. Strangely though the pain was also lessened by repetition. The images caught one desperate moment, while their repetitive nature suggested that time moves on. As pain is churned out again and again, it cannot maintain that pitch of emotion. Even as pain continued it seemed to ebb away. The opposite was true of a picture showing a series of pictures of Elvis in an exuberant moment during a performance. The images caught one ecstatic moment that went on and on. Ecstasy of course can't be churned out like that, and as my eye ran over Warhol's Elvis images, the joy of a moment faded into something more peaceful.
Eating in the Tate Modern 7th floor restaurant
Entry to the Tate Modern is free, and there are facilities to make a donation if you wish. There is a book shop and refreshment facilities. Wonderful views across London are to be had from the top floor. Interestingly some scenes from Bridget Jones's Diary were filmed at the Tate Modern.
Address: Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Directions: The Tate Modern is on Bankside near Blackfriars Bridge. From London Bridge station walk west along the Thames path. This is an easy walk of about five minutes. Click here for an interactive map centred on the Tate Modern.
Access: Wheelchair access is excellent, and there is lift priority for wheelchair users. Access leaflets are available from the Information desk on Level 1.
telephone: 020 7887 8888
web site: www.tate.org.uk