Located in a former Power Station by the London Thames Bankside, the Tate Modern in London is Britain’s national museum of international modern art. You can recognise it with it’s very iconic tall smoke stack located at the front façade of the museum- looking quite out of place in the buzzles around the Thames. The original building was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Battersea Power Station.
It was meant to serve the power requirements by the Thames and built in two stages between 1947 & 1963, it closed in 1981 and was converted into a modern art gallery and tourist attraction by architects Herzog & de Meuron and contractors Carillion, retaining much of the station’s trademark features such as it 99m tall smoke stack. The building still retains some (but not much) of it’s power grid functionalities too- The southern third of the building was retained by the French power company EDF Energy as an electrical substation.
Tate is a name synonymous with many brands, such as the Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives, and Tate Online, part of the group now known simply as Tate. The collections in Tate Modern consist of works of international modern and contemporary art dating from 1900 onwards and are housed in 3 of the 7 available floors the building have to offer.
Turbine Hall (Level B1)
In it’s active days, the Turbine Hall houses electricity generators of the old power station, the area is cavernous and is five floors tall with 3400sqm of floorspace, giving it a rather neat industrial feel and ambience typically found in large warehouses or airplane hangars. The place is usually employed for the display large exhibition items or trade/exhibition shows, including specially-commissioned works by contemporary artists. The large entrance gates leading to the turbine hall is the only limit to the size of the works which can be featured in here. The first floors also serves as the main entrance to the museum (as well as an escalator leading straight up to the galleries on the 2nd floor) and the ticketing counters to few of the paid galleries are located here as well.
Panorama of the interior of the Tate from the 1st floor Turbine hall.
Gifts and Tate café (Level 1)
The museum main gift shop is located here featuring a library of contemporary art books for sale as well as Tate specific merchandise, cards and toys. The shop space is reasonably big. Staircases serving all the above floors can be found here and can be accessed by the gift shop entrance. The Level 1 Gallery is a smaller gallery located on the north side of the building which houses exhibitions of cutting edge contemporary art. Its exhibitions normally run for 2 – 3 months.
Contemporary Art Gallery (Level 2 & 3)
The Tate Collection is on display on levels 2 and 3 of the building, while level 4 houses large temporary exhibitions and a small exhibition space on level two houses work by contemporary artists. Here you can find a variety of wall paintings, as well as nice open concept sculptures. The main lobby areas leading to the galleries have this neat timeline printed near the top of the ceiling showing every single bit of achievement in the arts scene all etched into a chronological timeline.
Some of the displays are hilariously funny- something which can be uniquely only found in modern art and in stark contrast to the more serious kind of detailed type of artworks and painting evident in the medieval era. There was even a room completely filled with Lithographs giving it very retro feel.
Controversy are some of the fuelings of modern art, some will just make you go huh? while some looks better possibly if it were done by an eight year old. Not to mention mind bending air works which require you to really see art is a distorted perspective or play mind games with you, I guess that’s the magic of modern art I guess. The beauty of art very much lies in the beauty of the beholder and it’s interesting that such art brings the idea of perception to a whole different new level.
The café on the top floors not only serves to fill you up, but the outdoor seating also offers great unobstructed views of the Millennium bridge over the River Thames, as well as St Paul’s in the background. It provides a rather good vantage point for photo opportunities by the Bankside.
Major temporary exhibitions (Level 4)
As with levels 3 and 5, level 4 is broken into two large exhibition areas. This is used to stage the major temporary exhibitions with an entry fee (museum passes/members enter for free). These exhibitions normally run for three or four months at ago, often with a full re-themeing of the floor’s lobby attracting visitors without the museum passes to walk-in for an entrance fee. These two exhibition areas can be combined to host a single exhibition, in retrospective to the size and number of the works to be featured. (E.g. For the Gilbert and George exhibition).
Members & corporate only areas (Level 6 & 7)
Level 6 houses an exclusive members area where supporters are pampered. The 7th floor is a corporate hospitality area spotting floor to ceiling glass walls and corporate function suites offering great views overlooking the London skyline and the River Thames. These places are open to members, exhibitors or company bookings on a reservation basis.
Overall, the Tate is a great refresh from the more traditional take on art, particularly being saturated by historical displays on the many older museums on my last visits. These days, modern art is becoming far from unacceptable as a form of mainstream art and I am glad, if not thrilled to see what kind of contraptions modern artists can serve up next on the platter (sometimes literally). Not that I am particularly sick of medieval art, but it’s a take from the conventional definition of an “art piece” often filling up the highs and lows of what one can perceive as reputable art given it’s unpredictably and the controversy it draws- typical traits of modern art these days and that is what the Tate aims to bring forward.
View more photos of the museum in my Tate trip photo album.