Food Feature: Form fitting
New Tate Modern a monumental canvas for contemporary collections
London, always a classic cultural destination, has lately become a mecca for modern and contemporary art lovers. Last year's opening of Tate Modern, England's new national modern art museum, added fresh energy to the already thriving gallery scene.
Set on the edge of the Thames, just a few steps from Shakespeare's Globe Theater and the new millennial footbridge, Tate Modern is an imposing structure. Galleries, two cafes and an espresso bar, among other facilities, are situated in a new seven-level steel structure built within the former Bankside Power Station.
A wide inside entrance ramp leads to the expansive Turbine Hall on Level 1. Like a covered street, the hall leads to open interior escalators, stairs and elevators that keep people flowing through the space. Even on a Saturday, when there are tons of people visiting the free museum (only special exhibitions require tickets), the space doesn't get crowded.
Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron converted the interior of the former power station while respecting the 1947 design of the building's original architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Scott, who designed Battersea Power Station and the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, is also the architect of the famous British red telephone box.
The most notable change to the exterior of the building is a new two-story glass structure or light beam spanning the length of the roof. The addition provides natural lighting for upper level galleries and houses a cafe with a stunning view of London (not to mention terrific food and outstanding service). At night, there's a Swiss light designed by Michael Craig-Martin that lights the top of Tate Modern's chimney like a beacon.
Tate Modern is one of a family of Tate galleries in London, Liverpool and St. Ives in Cornwall. Founded in 1897 by Henry Tate, who gave his collection of British art to England, the original museum was called the National Gallery of British Art. Over the years, the museum acquired thousands of works, including the Turner Bequest and a significant modern French art collection. Tate Modern, in the works since 1992, opened to the public this past May. The museum displays the Tate collection of international modern and contemporary art, along with special exhibitions.
French art legend Louise Bourgeois created two sculptures for the opening. In Turbine Hall, the vast space that once held the station's massive alternators, she erected "Maman," a giant spider that extended her great legs across the hall's central bridge. Farther down the hall, the artist constructed three huge towers with spiral staircases. Gallery goers without vertigo are invited to engage in aerial self-reflection in seating at the top of each.
Echoing the New York Museum of Modern Art's recent rotating exhibitions from its permanent collection, Tate Modern began with revolving shows from its holdings called Collection 2000. Last December, four thematic groups of work spanned the 20th century with a look at the evolution of landscape, still life, nude and history painting. The "Nude/Action/Body" section included works by Alberto Giacometti, Bourgeois, Rebecca Horn and Bruce Nauman, as well as British photographer Sam Taylor-Wood and Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra. Dijkstra's photo portraits of young mothers who've just given birth and adolescents on the beach filled one room, while Taylor-Wood's life-sized "Brontosaurus" video projection mesmerized viewers in another.
This year, a suite of special international shows is scheduled, including Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, exhibitions featuring Arte Povera and Surrealism and projects by Giorgio Morandi, Juan Muoz, Eija-Liisa Ahtila and Katharina Fritsch.
Collection 2000 continues through January. Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Feb. 1-April 29; Giorgio Morandi: Silent Spaces, May 22-Aug. 12; Zero to Infinity: Arte Provera 1962-1972, June 1-Aug. 19; The Unilever Series: Juan Muoz, June 12-December; Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Sept. 7-Dec. 5; Surrealism: Desire Unbound, Sept. 20-Dec. 16. Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. +44 020 7887 8000. www.tate.org.uk.