Shortly after 11.30 this morning at the Tate Modern art gallery, the organisation’s director Sir Nicholas Serota and artist Martin Creed cut a cake. I like to imagine them both a little flushed of cheek after dancing samba with the 150 local schoolkids who had formed a procession there from Borough Market. Whatever the case, the world’s most visited gallery of modern art was ten years old today.
Tate Modern is now so much a part of the lives of Londoners and visitors to London that it’s worth for a moment thinking about how big a deal its appearance was. In the 1990s, the South Bank’s main attractions were just the London Aquarium, the South Bank Centre and Shakespeare’s Globe.
Since then, the arrival of the London Eye, the opening of Tate Modern and the roaring success of Borough Market have made strolling this bit of riverside an absolute tourist must-do, and the Millennium Bridge - that derided wobbly footbridge - now funnels a constant stream of people between St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern, landmarks of the 18th and 21st centuries suddenly on nodding acquaintance with each other across the Thames.
I used to stroll the river walk in my lunch hour, gazing up at the towering brown-brick chimney of what was then Bankside Power Station - one of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s masterpieces, then already ten years derelict - wondering how long it would be before some bright spark made it into another dead block of luxury flats.
Instead, architects Herzog & de Meuron transformed it into this hugely popular gallery, perfectly catching the moment when suspicious Brits began to take a shine to 20th-century art - it only took us until the start of the 21st century to do so.
The holdings are impressive and impressively displayed. The range of artists is too broad to list, but you’ll see work by Matisse, Rothko and Bacon, by Surrealists, Minimalists and Cubists, by Picasso and Andy Warhol. There are great views of the City, too - especially from the 7th floor bar.
Of course, the place’s popularity has become a bit of a problem. Designed for two million people a year, Tate Modern has been welcoming an annual average of around 4.5 million. So this year work started on TM2, a kind of vast pyramid extension on the inland side of the building that promises to be every bit as dramatic as the gallery itself.
But how is Tate Modern going to celebrate its birthday? They’ve decided on a rather freewheeling mish-mash of events this weekend (14-16 May). No Soul for Sale: Festival of Independents will run in the massive Turbine Hall from 10am into the night on Friday and Saturday, with art collectives and galleries from across the globe invited to show off video projections, music and installations. I’m told to expect kites made out of poems to be flown and that I'll find a giant picture of a pizza slice stuck to the floor, as well as musical accompaniment from alt-rock and electronica stars such as Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, DJ Spooky and Cosey Fanni Tutti from Throbbing Gristle. It’s all free too.
For a full programme of events, see http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/nosoulforsale/default.shtm.
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