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The next-to-last weekend (A Tale of Two Tates)

August 1st, 2005 by MrLuxuryFashionGuru

While I did not make it to Fabric this weekend (I’ll try and work up more enthusiasm for next Friday), nor did my planned visit to Kew pan out (for the upteenth, rained-out time), I did however visit get in some museum-visiting and dvd-watching.

Favourite lines from Italian For Beginners (which had many truly sublime moments amidst the generally tedious pacing, but was overall rather hampered by being visibly low-budget – it looked and occasionally felt painfully like a melodrama or soap opera a la Days of Our Lives):

Olympia (to her older sister) : What would you like for Christmas?
Karen: To own this salon, then I’d be my own boss. [Olympia gives her a helpless look; Karen laughs]. But I’d be happy with a scarf. What would you like for Christmas?
Olympia: To have a husband, and a home, and never have to work again. [She doesn’t allow herself more than a moment to remember her neuromuscular disability, the result (unknown to her) of foetal alcohol syndrome.] But I’d be happy with those long earrings we saw at the mall.

NB: Translated (probably quite loosely) from the German dialogue.

Such an achingly beautiful, yet unsentimental, unvarnished look at ordinariness, hopes, dreams, desire, compromise and acceptance, with such powerful commentary about existence, materialism and psychological resilience.

I went to both the Tate museums in London this weekend – the Tate Britain on Saturday and the Tate Modern on Sunday. In my opinion, the Tate Modern is by far the better museum in terms of visitor experience.

Bearing in mind, of course, that many people do not actually like or even respect modern and contemporary art (at the Tate Modern I overheard multiple comments along the lines of, “That’s not art, is it?” “No, I don’t think so – I could have made that. And imagine how much they paid for that!”), the Tate Modern is just more well-thought-out, thought provoking and accessible (in more ways than one).

To begin with, finding the Tate Modern from the nearest underground station (Southwark) is a lot easier than finding the Tate Britain (at Pimlico). Clearly labelled orange lampposts vibrantly mark the route to the Tate Modern, whereas finding the Tate Britain involves looking out for the occasional small street sign.

And then there’re the buildings. The Tate Modern is rather ugly on the outside (it was formally a massive power plant in the bad part of town), but the interior has loads of character that keeps the visiting experience constantly interesting and fresh (courtesy of the celebrity architecture team of Herzog and de Meuron). The Tate Britain, in contrast, while having a marginally more attractive classical fa�ade, is both insipid and rather confusing to navigate on the inside. It didn’t help that the Tate Modern was far more lively when I visited on Sunday afternoon – the café was packed, the large bookstore was bustling and the cavernous gallery spaces were animated with a constant stream of lively visitors. My visit to the Tate Britain on Saturday afternoon, however, was considerably more sombre and solitary.

Now, turning to the actual content of the two museums – the collections and the curating. The Tate Britain, with it’s rather narrow focus on British artists (who are frankly just not very interesting prior to the 20th century with a few exceptions like Constable, Turner, Sargent and the PRB), seems slightly lacklustre. This is especially because they only seem to have a handful of works from each artist on display (with the exception of the large Turner collection). The Tate Modern, on the other hand, has the advantage of being able to fill its galleries with only notable works by influential artists, many of whom are also very famous, which of course enhances the “wow” factor. Add to that the fact that a lot of the art is actually very, very cleaver, and quite beyond the abilities of the average person, and you start to see why the Tate Modern’s collection is so fascinating. There’s a delicately precise mobile by Calder, the massive Matisse collage The Snail, the striking, paranoia-filled (in the original sense) canvases by Dali – and I still personally do not like surrealism – and the definition-defying optical and kinetic pieces like my favourite, Pol Bury’s 3069 Points blancs sur un fond oval. But of course a collection is nothing without brilliant curating to pull it all together, to make the pieces speak to each other and to the visitor, to put everything in context, in opposition, in relation to other times, places, people, movements and ideas. In this respect, the Tate Modern also did a more compelling job, I felt, with considerably harder material (so many different mediums, ideas, movements), whereas the Tate Britain’s inevitable chronological lock-step with British history failed to inject excitement or urgency into the art, which ultimately seemed dead and almost irrelevant.

Then there are little things, like the seemingly more frequent, excellent free guided tours, the larger museum bookstore selection plus the more seamless floor-plan, that all add up to make the Tate Modern just so much more visitor-friendly than the Tate Britain.

In short, the Tate Britain is ok, but the Tate Modern is cool 🙂 

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4 Responses to “The next-to-last weekend (A Tale of Two Tates)”

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