The Tate Modern, London

You can't walk over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, because that sterling example of fin de siecle engineering is a tad on the wobbly side and closed for structural modifications. So I wandered along from the Southwark tube instead; and a fine experience it was. Outside, it's a giant brick with a chimney. To get inside, you walk down a wide front ramp to a modest row of glass doors, expecting to enter a foyer of similar height—and pass through them into one of the biggest spaces imaginable, opening up before you in one glorious instant, all dark industrial shadows and bright natural light. It's a wonderful architectural trick, so much so that it's hard for any of the work in the galleries to match its impact.

The collection itself is the kind of overview of 20th century art that the old Tate simply didn't have the room to display, meaning that London at last has a museum of modern art to match New York's, in a space as impressive as the Guggenheim or SFMOMA. All the big names are there, along with the names you've never heard of (but then, they've been hung in the Tate Modern, and all you got was this lousy t-shirt).

Refreshingly, the temporary exhibition of 23 installation pieces was more interesting than the standing collection. I enjoyed Anish Kapoor's imposing monoliths, James Coleman's slide-show, Jeff Wall's gust of wind, Julian Opie's Volvo and Cornelia Parker's frozen explosion more than the Rothkos, Warhols and Picassos.

Maybe that's because some of the old faithfuls are starting to show their age—literally. It struck me while looking at the browning newspaper of Dada and the yellowing acrylic of Pop (and not for the first time) just how short-lived so much twentieth century art will be. See it now, before it's crumbled away.

And why not see it at the Tate Modern. It's big. It's shiny. It's got a huge sculpture of a metal spider in the main Turbine Hall, guaranteed to induce unpleasant Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders flashbacks in people of a certain age. And it's the biggest thing to happen to the London gallery scene in the fifteen years I've been visiting the city.


First published in Walking West, 9 August 2000.
This page: 7 September 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©2000 Rory Ewins