Tate Modern is the national gallery of international modern art. Located in London, it is one of the family of four Tate galleries which display selections from the Tate Collection. The Collection comprises the national collection of British art from the year 1500 to the present day, and of international modern art. The other three galleries are Tate Britain, also in London, Tate Liverpool, in the north-west, and Tate St Ives, in Cornwall, in the south-west. The entire Tate Collection is available online.
Created in the year 2000 from a disused power station in the heart of London, Tate Modern displays the national collection of international modern art. This is defined as art since 1900. International painting pre-1900 is found at the National Gallery, and sculpture at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Tate Modern includes modern British art where it contributes to the story of modern art, so major modern British artists may be found at both Tate Modern and Tate Britain.
Tate Modern celebrates its 5th birthday with a celebratory publication, including essays by the writers Martin Gayford, John Holden, Rowan Moore, Rt Hon Chris Smith, Jon Snow and Tony Travers and includes a reprint of a poem by James Fenton written on the occasion of the opening of Tate Modern.
The Tate Modern features Britain's most extensive collection of modern art, and in fact is the most visited modern art gallery in the world. The museum itself features a fitting modern design, with sleek white walls and long escalators to help you traverse the museum's four floors. At the Tate you can explore a vast collection of modern and temporary art dating from 1900 to the present. Whereas art from before this time period typically consisted of traditional paintings and sculptures, the Tate Modern features art that includes installations, artist rooms, and text-based art in addition to the aforementioned paintings and sculptures. These different forms of modern art are split into eight different exhibitions and displays titled “the Lawrence Weiner Rooms”, “the Joseph Beuys Rooms”, “Structure and Clarity”, “the Gerhard Richter Rooms”, “Skirt of the Black Mouth”, “Transformed Visions”, “Poetry and Dream”, and lastly “Energy and Process.”
To get a feel for the type of art you will find yourself encountering at the Tate Modern, I suggest that you first visit the “Structure and Clarity” display. The art here focuses on a certain minimalist aesthetic that emerged in the early 1900's, one that later found its identity in the interwar period through geometrical expression and a break from any clear depiction of reality. Some of my favorites from this section include works by Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, and René Magritte. Mondrian, who was fascinated by the abstract quality of the line, demonstrated this in his piece Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red. The painting is incredibly simple but also pure in its depiction of lines and basic colors. Picasso has a number of notable works in this museum that include Seated Nude and Bowl of Fruit, Violin, and Bottle which can be found in this section. Seated Nude is especially interesting as a deconstructive and expressive view of the traditional nude painting. Here, the woman is an unrecognizable collection of geometric planes that leaves her looking cold and mechanical. However, she still retains the pose similar to a classical nude painting. René Magritte's The Anunciation is a beautifully expressive and colorful painting that shows a landscape populated with objects from everyday life, including a metal sheet with bells and a paper cut-out. The otherwise normal landscape painting is infused with a dreamlike and surreal quality. The art here gives a solid introduction to what you might typically define as modern art: abstract, surreal, and sometimes even confusing or hard to make sense of.
For some more beautiful modern paintings and sculptures, you should spend some time walking through the “Poetry and Dream” gallery on floor 2 and the “Transformed Visions” gallery on floor 3. “Poetry and Dream” focuses on surrealism and the art and ideologies that diverged and sprung from that field of art. Many of the paintings here deal with dream-like imagery. A couple of really interesting pieces from this section are Max Ernst's Celebes and Giorgio de Chirico's The Uncertainty of the Poet. Both pieces showcase odd juxtapositions, dark color tones, and seemingly random images drawn together to create a puzzle for you to solve. You can spend quite some time trying to extract meaning from these pieces, and your interpretation will almost certainly differ from the person next to you. In the “Transformed Visions” gallery you will experience different visions of traditional art subjects like figures and landscapes. For example, the paintings Water Lilies by Claude Monet and Yacht Approaching the Coast by Joseph Mallord William Turner both depict obscure visions of real world objects. We know what they are supposed to look like, but through the lens of these artists we get a different interpretation on their canvas.
For a different type of gallery, you should see the “Energy and Process” exhibition on floor 4, which attempts to look at different artists' interest in transformation and natural forces. The work here features less paintings and more art that blurs the line between art and objects from day-to-day life through film, photography, and installations. Three interesting pieces from this section that are designed to make you think and hopefully provoke a response from you are Spacial Concept 'Waiting,' Violent Incident, and Untitled (Living Sculpture). The first piece is an unpainted canvas with a slash in the middle of it, the second is a series of videos aligned together depicting incidents of meaningless violence with different pairs of people, and the last is a work of aluminum hanging from the wall that recalls the image of a jellyfish. What do these all mean? That is for you to decide. But each piece will definitely cause you to think. Or you may just say “Is this even art?” and walk out (if so, then the artist has done their job though).
If you are willing to expand your definition of art beyond traditional notions of beauty and what you find to normally be aesthetically pleasing, then you will find the Tate Modern to be an interesting and unique experience. You won't find art like this in another museum in London, so I recommend everyone at least give this museum a chance, and who knows you might end up liking what you see here.
-By Phillip Storm, Arts Correspondent VisitMuseums.com
Open Sunday to Thursday from 10:00 - 18:00, Friday and Saturday until 22:00.
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