The opening of Tate Modern’s long awaited extension has arrived. For many months the twisted brick and concrete building has intrigued Londoners and visitors passing by. From Friday, they will be allowed inside to experience it in full.
The new tower, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, architects of the original building, is called the Switch House and the old building is now the Boiler House – names that acknowledge of the site’s history. The two buildings are connected at the first floor and the fourth floor by bridges that span the massive central turbine hall.
The most extraordinary thing about the building is the amount of light that floods in. Soaring windows and strategic narrow panes stream daylight into the hallways and galleries. The exterior brickwork creates internal checkerboard windows that draw in more light which is bounced around by light oak flooring. The result is a bright and airy building, even on an overcast day. The windows other purpose is to frame views of the world outside. At every turn there is a new sightline, unexpected aspect or scene of daily life. The broad, sweeping concrete staircases anchor everything.
The gallery has completely rehung its display collection. The new museum will show 800 works, by over 300 artists from over 50 countries. It represents progress from a largely Western European and North American perspective, to a truly diverse collection reflecting people from across the globe. Impressively, half the solo displays are works by women artists.
Some of the work is challenging. The Louise Bougeois Room is disturbing, dystopian and strange. The Object and Architecture gallery will amuse modern art malcontents: a pile of bricks by Carl Andre, a jelly-like pink neon cube by Roni Horn or two people holding a string of bunting by Amalia Pica.
The majority, however, is uplifting and eye-opening. Photographs, exhibits, sound and film make up Silver Action by Suzanne Lacy, an illuminating exploration of women in old age. In the Bloomberg room films about Ai Weiwei in Beijing and Sheela Gowda in India reveal how their home cities inspire their work. You can then see the outcome in the Boiler House. Overall, there is more photography, performance art and film.
The displays challenge ideas about what is art and what it means to us today with new technologies and a more diverse viewpoint. It pushes visitors out of comfort zones and pulls them in new directions. It is an exhilarating and exciting journey that will baffle some and inspire others, but everyone will have an opinion.
Beyond the art and architecture, there is a more simple pleasure that will draw people to the Tate. On the tenth floor, visitors have a 360 degree view over London. From the rooftop, you can see the hills of Hampstead Heath in the north and Crystal Palace in the South. The forest of tower blocks that is the new London rise all around you. Peer into the £20million apartment blocks right next to the tower or contemplate how more and more is being crammed into the city.
The new Tate Modern is a superb accomplishment that reflects London’s enduring place as a world city.
Here’s some of the art you can see at the Switch House and new Tate Modern. Click on any image to launch the gallery and scroll through.
Useful Links: Tate Modern
Feature Image: Inversions by Mary Martin at Switch House, Tate Modern