Modern art tends to divide people. There are those that hate it, those that see deep meanings behind the canvases and those that aren’t bothered either way. The beauty of taking anyone to the Tate Modern, is that all camps are totally looked after. Confused? Follow me.
The Tate Modern is quite some edifice, rising up from the Thames riverbank. A former power station designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, it consisted of a stunning turbine hall, 35 metres high and 152 metres long, with the boiler house alongside it and a single central chimney. It was an imposing building along the London Southbank but apart from a remaining operational London Electricity sub-station, the site had been redundant since 1981. Herzog & De Meuron (Basel architects) were commissioned in 1994 to convert the building into the gallery that we know and love today.
When I first moved to London, I ran a pub (incidentally where I also met that husband of mine) and one of the best/worst things about the job was having to work split shifts; a morning and then an evening, which left me with the whole afternoon – usually 4 or 5 hours in which to entertain myself.
So entertain myself I did, usually disappearing to random parts of London to walk the halls of museums and galleries. The Tate Britain was just down the road from my pub, but the gallery that first stopped me in my tracks was the Tate Modern.
With rooms filled with melting Dali clocks, head-scratching Mondrian canvasses and rotating displays, to say I was enthralled was an understatement. I studied art history in school and took a paper in it at university, but to experience the art in the flesh is a whole ‘nother experience – and one that still blows my tiny mind.
Then I discovered Degas’ Ballerina (known as the ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’.) I could actually spend hours staring at the beautiful bronze, astounded that if it wasn’t for her glass case, I could actually reach out a hand and touch the actual same surface as a world-renowned artist. (The fact that I’d then probably be carted away to the police station didn’t seem to perturb me worryingly.)
It is an enormous building; both in footprint and in sheer mass – they stripped down the original power station to the bare steel and brick structure and set about turning it into the canvas that it is today.
When the Tate first opened its doors to the public in 1897 it had just one site, displaying a small collection of British artworks. Today there are four major sites and the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art, which includes nearly 70,000 artworks.
So, y’know, enough for art lovers to be enthralled.
There is art dotted everywhere, from the discoveries in the basement to the rooms upstairs, which you reach by a slightly convoluted arrangement of escalators – or simply hop in the lift from the turbine hall (which often houses visiting artworks itself.)
But, I promised entertainment for people who didn’t like art, didn’t I? Well, here it is. A huge hall, with some boxes and tape to play with. Only kidding..!
If you jump into the lifts into the Blavatnik Building and peel out at the 10th floor, there is a viewing platform that will catch your London breath.
And it’s totally free. I think it’s one of the best free things to do in London.
Not such a bad view, eh?
Do you have favourite galleries & museums in London?
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