London is home to some 1,500 odd galleries and its current art scene is one of the world’s largest, with an international reach that rivals that of other famed art hubs including New York and Paris. However, one that towers (quite literally) over all others is the Tate Modern.
At only 15 years old, most will agree that the Tate has done well in asserting itself alongside the globes’ ‘gallery greats’. When it first opened back in 2000, it seemed the Tate had already entered as a key player at the highest level, levelling with its’ counterparts at New York’s MoMA and Paris’ Pompidou and becoming a pivotal, leading voice in today’s contemporary art scene. We think it’s fair to say that the Tate Modern has settled very nicely into the museum landscape.
Since its arrival, the Tate’s familiar Turbine Hall has been lauded as one of the most photographed spaces in the world of contemporary art. So, where does this leave the new Switch House extension? How has the new building been received so far, and how does it connect with the existing landmark that we’ve all come to recognise in the London skyline?
The Tate Modern opened its brand new angular extension in June earlier this year. Using 336,000 bricks to wrap around the ziggurat shaped pyramid, Swiss studio Herzog & de Meuron were invited back to design the extension, having been responsible for the original conversion of the former Bankside Power Station in 2000. The latticed brickwork facade intentionally helps to match the exterior brickwork of Giles Gilbert Scott’s original power station. Ascan Mergenthaler, a senior partner at Herzog & De Meuron sums up the spatial design, saying “from the cavernous subterranean Tanks dedicated to performance and installation art, to the lofty top-lit galleries with their large luminescent ceilings, each form a broad ribbon for circulation meandering up through the building, to the generous day-lit education spaces.” (Dezeen, 2016).
Named after part of the power station that housed the electrical switches, the new galleries have expanded the museum by 60% to accommodate its’ thriving visitor numbers (The Art Newspaper, 2016). Frances Morris, the Tate’s new director, explains that the objective for the new building was to harbour more “participatory art or the debate around art and audiences”. Morris pinpointed the 1960s as the decade where this can be articulated with the greatest amount of authority. The 1960s, being a time where massive social, political and artistic shifts were witnessed in society, creating crucial moments in history that deserve to be celebrated within the new spaces (Dezeen, 2016). The installations begin in the mid-1960s in the theatrical basement tanks and as you climb the spiral stairs the narrative from artists of the 20th century begin to take over.
With a view to present a greater variety of artworks and more global artists, the Tate is aiming for an increasingly global portfolio of modern and contemporary art. It’s all part of Morris’ plan to grow the Tate. Not just underground into the Switch House and up ten storeys into the new ziggurat, but within its international outlook and it’s vision to right the gender balance, so that the next generation will understand that women also make great art.
The result? An undoubted consensus that Switch House has had a transformative impact on the city already, reinstating the Tate Modern’s landmark appeal and continuing to be an influential force in honouring the contemporary arts. We can’t wait to climb the spiral staircase to the outlook over the Thames ourselves.
Have you visited the new Tate Modern building? We’d love to know what your experience was like in the comments below.