It’s not just a load of old Pollocks.
In fact, the array of different works on display here is quite astounding. Home to thousands of mesmerising paintings, unusual installations and avant-garde sculpture, the Tate Modern is Britain’s national modern art gallery, housed in a striking old power station.
The Tate Modern carries so much weight in the collective London consciousness that it’s hard to believe it only opened in 2000. The building itself – an iconic chunk of skyline designed by Battersea Power Station architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – was only completed in 1963, closing less than 20 years later and lying empty for many more. Now, it’s one of the world’s most visited museums, with millions pouring in through its doors every year. And it’s only continuing to expand – the last few years have seen the addition of the Blavatnik Building, a towering structure offering more gallery space for post-1960s art; and the three former subterranean oil tanks, now converted into dedicated spaces for live performance art.
Entrance to the permanent collections is free, and covers eight different themed gallery spaces spread over three floors of the main building. Highlights include abstract work by synaesthetic painter Kandinsky, Matisse’s The Snail and Picasso’s Weeping Woman; Marcel Duchamp’s boundary-shattering signed urinal; Rodin’s The Kiss; Warhol’s pop art portraits of Marilyn Monroe; and an embarrassment of Rothkos, Bacons and Dalís besides. But you’ll find the most impressive landscape on the top level of the Blavatnik Building – a free viewing platform with stunning panoramic views across the whole city (and wine).
Beyond the permanent collection, there’s also a set of ticketed temporary exhibitions offering in-depth retrospectives of particular artists, or broad-ranging explorations on a theme or artistic movement. Currently, they include a filmic Steve McQueen retrospective (until 11th May), a fascinating major exhibition on Andy Warhol (until 6th September), and a year-long, free exhibition on the Hungarian artist and teacher, Dóra Maurer (until 5th July).
The pièce de résistance, however, is the grand Turbine Hall. Standing the full height of the main building, this vast space plays host to some of the gallery’s most impressive large-scale sculptures and installations, which pop up for a few months at a time. In the past, it’s been the site of giant looping slides, a sun, and a big crack down the middle of the floor – and now Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus is in situ, subverting traditional monuments with a 13m-tall, fully functioning fountain adorned with the figures of the exploited and the profiteering of the transatlantic slave trade.
Once you’ve made as much sense as you can of the art on offer (and possibly caught yourself accidentally admiring a genuine fire extinguisher or two), you can debrief over a coffee – or something stronger – in the restaurant and bar, with views over St. Paul’s and the river. Or head down to the Terrace Bar in the Blavatnik building, which once a month plays host to ‘Tate Tap Takeovers’, with a guest craft brewery on the taps, and entertainment from DJs and Hip Hop Karaoke. That’s all part of a busy after-hours programme that also includes Tate Lates, where you can take part in themed activities, listen to artist talks, and take a peek at the exhibitions with a cocktail in hand.
It’s a very modern way of seeing art.
NOTE: Tate Modern is open daily 10am-6pm (10pm Fridays & Saturdays). It’s free to enter, but temporary exhibitions are ticketed – find out more, and book ahead, HERE.
Tate Modern | Bankside, SE1 9TG
Last Updated: 11th March 2020 | Main image: Caetano Candal Sato
Looking for art in the city? Check out what’s on in London’s art galleries