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Tate Modern

Tate Modern: An astonishing achievement—but

Last month, 1,800 journalists came to report on London’s new museum; 4,000 guests vied for tickets to the inaugural party, and 105,000 visitors poured in over the first three days

The New York Times Michael Kimmelman

new york. The Tate is in part a temple to vanity, the vanity of a culture that equates spectacle with substance, with half of the building devoted to a vast entranceway, the museum’s deeply gloomy signature space—and with an installation that is occasionally eccentric to the point of distraction...Museums should make it easier for people to stand in front of a work unencumbered. The Tate’s installation makes a case for a return to the old chronological approach, or for a blend of old approach and new, time being a cruel master, but at least a reliable way to get a handle on the past. 10/5/2000

Wall Street Journal Paul Levy

new york. The building is beyond hyperbole...Will the visitor who formerly went to the Tate to see those works of art that are among the international masterpieces of the last century be well served? Sixty percent of the permanent collection is displayed. Is it enough?...It will probably never have the budget to plug the gaps in its early modern collection, and can never compete with the Museum of Modern Art or the Metropolitan in New York, or in some respects with the Art Institute of Chicago—though it doesn’t look too bad measured against the Pompidou in Paris. 12/5/2000

Newsweek Peter Plagens

new york. As chief of the most important museum complex in London, fifty-four year-old Serota might be the most influential figure in today’s art world. Erect, wiry and designer-suited, he combines the scholarship and suavity of Philippe de Montebello of the Metropolitan Museum in New York with drive and deal making acumen of the Guggenheim’s Thomas Krens ... Serota’s international outlook jibes with the ambitions of “Blair’s Britain” to be an economic and cultural force on a global scale. 8/5/2000

Los Angeles Times Nicolai Ouroussoff

los angeles. Surprisingly, few museums have demonstrated this ability to make art a public experience without sacrificing the importance of art itself. Buildings like Paris’s Pompidou Centre, completed in 1977, may have created the feel of a spontaneous street festival, but its cavernous central hall and machine aesthetic make it a terrible place to view art. A more successful model from a populist standpoint is Los Angeles’ Geffen Contemporary. Designed by Frank D. Gehry in 1984, the museum is housed in raw warehouse space...you feel closer to the process of making art than the process of categorising, valuing and promoting it. The Tate pushes that model further. The melding of art and industry—a central theme of twentieth-century culture—is wonderfully resolved here. With simple forms, seductive surfaces and moments of ephemerality, the structure accepts the highs and lows of the twentieth century as simple realities. 11/5/2000

San Francisco Chronicle Kenneth Baker

san francisco. Bourgeois is showing three huge rusted steel towers...Unfortunately, in view of their prominence, they are the least convincing facet of the Tate Modern’s extensive opening presentations. Bourgeois’ one effective piece here is an enormous bronze spider that looms, seemingly on tiptoe, on the central pedestrian bridge across the Turbine Hall. Monstrously imposing when one is on its level, the spider looks almost dainty when viewed from three levels above, through the transparent wall that divides the exhibition spaces from the Turbine Hall. 10/5/2000

Le Monde Geneviève Breerette

paris. The conversion of the former power station is particularly successful. The vast size of the building is reduced to reasonable scale with the galleries, which are comfortable for both viewers and works of art...This is a museum which is prepared to take the risk of not being like a museum, which breaks with any chronological presentation of twentieth-century art...The result: a confrontation of generations which is anything but boring...Juxtapositions of old and new which are sometimes happy, sometimes debatable, strained or obvious...In this relative shambles, the classic Moderns are ill at ease, the artists from 1950 onwards and the contemporaries, more so...The fact that we do not know anymore what history of Modernity to recount does not excuse all the fancies at TateModern...that said, however, one is beguiled. One only notices the strengths of the collection and not its faults. 14-15/5/2000

Libération E.L.

paris. The new Tate leaves one astonished, dazzled, with all preconceptions thrown out of the window. And a little envious, as well: because London now has this magnificent museum of modern art, having been without one. And not just a museum, but a landmark, a catalyst for London....the Modern collections cannot be compared with those at the Centre Pompidou or MoMA in New York, which makes the achievement so spectacular. The curators (all women except for the Danish director, Lars Nittve) have managed to turn this to their advantage...for the other indisputable success of Tate Modern is its museography. 12/5/2000

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Gina Thomas

frankfurt. Just as Bankside used to supply electricity, so Tate Modern now sees itself as a source of energy radiating beyond the edges of the humming London art scene. A McKinsey survey calculated that the museum will create 2,400 new jobs and bring up to £90 million to London...The rooms with the mixed hangs are as banal as they are forced. Some are a success, such as the twelve-metre high Beuys gallery, however most of it looks like the remains of the garden fence that Cornelia Parker got the British army to blow up, connected up by thin thread. But Serota brushes criticism aside: if people want a chronological presentation, they should buy a book. 8/5/2000

The Times Simon Jenkins

london. The new Tate on Bankside was consecrated yesterday with a royal dedication. The relics were installed. The high priests of art were gathered. Masses had been recited in the donors’ honour, or at least masses had been eaten and drunk. At last week’s opening banquet, I swear Tate’s director, Sir Nicholas Serota, blessed the assembled host with the sign of the cross. These days it is those that give to art who are saved. St Nicholas forgives all sins, especially the sin of usury. 12/5/2000

The Daily Telegraph

Daniel Johnson

london. Tate Modern is seen as sublime because it is vast and intimidating: it panders to giganticism and worship with which the new anti-art intends to impress us. When Gilbert and George told [a journalist] at the launch party, “Art is power”, they expressed precisely the post-modernism of Michel Foucault which their work embodies...Massive with possibility [the Tate] may be, but deep in the chambers of my heart I fear this fortress. 13/5/2000

The Times Richard Morrison

london. First let’s recognise that Tate Modern is a wonderful metaphor for twenty-first century Britain. In its ex-industrial brick overcoat, it sits directly across the Thames from St Paul’s Cathedral, and its tower (formerly a vast chimney-stack)...rises almost as high as Wren’s dome. The symbolism is obvious. Once upon a time England’s culture was founded upon Christianity and its greatest buildings were cathedrals. Then it was founded upon industry and imperialism and its greatest buildings were factories and government ministries. Now we have neither religion, industry nor empire, and our greatest buildings are trendy conversions, full of chic people looking at chic things that have no real relevance to the big world outside...Tate Modern bolsters an existing arts institution and reinforces its particular view of what is important and what is not in the arts. Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Serota. His vision in conceiving Tate Modern is matched only by his steely resolve to see the project through. But there is no doubt that he now sits, like one of Louise Bourgeois’s giant spiders, at the centre of a huge web of patronage. 11/5/2000

Times Literary Supplement James Hall

london. At a stroke, London goes from having no dedicated museum of modern art, to having the world’s largest. The colossal central chimney looks set to become the art world’s Big Ben. It is an extraordinary achievement...but it raises almost as many questions as it answers...the permanent collection is hung unchronologically by genre...Paradoxically, it calls into question the whole notion that there is something called modern art. For by arranging the collection by genres which were defined in the seventeenth century...historical continuity rather than rupture is implied. 19/5/2000

See p. 10 for the commercial internet alliance between the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate, with which the Tate hope to help finance the £6 million a year deficit in public funding for Tate Modern

Most writers, especially the architecture critics, enthused over the river views and the strength and stylishness of Herzog & de Meuron’s adaptation. From the art lover’s perspective, the larger rooms, especially those with windows, were good (above), but on the turbine hall side of the galleries block, there are too many small, claustrophic rooms en enfilade, with openings too large in relation to the wall space. These rooms positively discourage the visitor from lingering in front of the works of art. The lighting is brutal: headachy neon concealed beneath sheets of glass. It flattens and diminishes the older art, making the classic Moderns look dead and Rodin’s “The Kiss” (stuck in a corner) like an abandoned survivor from the distant past. The thematic hangs are stimulating, but need to be done next time with more feeling for the art: concepts are not enough; a museum is above all a visual experience. A trip to the new Essl Collection outside Vienna is recommended to see rooms with much better circulation patterns and lighting, and a hang, by Rudi Fuchs of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, that makes the very best of a collection much less distinguished than the Tate’s. One last suggestion: all label writers should be issued with The Economist style guide so that the next lot of labels are less wordy (eg; always use the word of Anglo-Saxon origin in preference to Latin); museological research demonstrated at least ten years ago that our reading age declines when we are expected to read standing up. For the story of how and why Herzog and de Meuron did what they did to the Bankside power station, the Tate Gallery has published Building Tate Modern, containing interviews with Nick Serota and the architects

• Originally published in The Art Newspaper with the headline "An astonishing achievement—but"

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 104 June 2000