When people think of being a tourist in London, they think of Big Ben or The London Eye, The Houses of Parliament, or Buckingham Palace, but these cliche images of London often mean that the real gems of our capital city get overlooked. Places like the Tate Modern are hubs of culture that often even Londoners themselves haven’t paid attention to, just because it’s not a go-to tourist spot. But the fact is, The Tate Modern is pretty great, and here’s why.
1. The architecture
Before we even get onto things inside the building that are worth looking at, the building itself is pretty fantastic. The building for the British Gallery of International Modern Art is actually an old power station, the Bankside Power Station that was built between 1947 and 1963, and designed by the famous Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The actual art gallery opened late on in the millennium, and it’s strangely geometric design constituting part pyramid, part imposing tower overlooks the Thames, striped with lights in the evening. The interior is nothing short of colossal, with huge curving staircases, powerful metal girders, and large, white show rooms.
2. There’s something for everyone
The huge selection of artwork that features at the Tate Modern means that you’ll inevitably find something that interests you, even if you think that modern art isn’t really your thing. In fact, the selection is so huge, it’s nigh-on impossible to explore everything on show in the space of one trip, not least because the maze-like structure of the interior means that you frequently find yourself right back where you started, missing out whole exhibitions entirely. Pieces range from Salvador Dali’s “Lobster Telephone” sculpture to one of Monet’s “Waterlilies” paintings, from Neo Concrete exhibitions to short animated films.
One of the best things about the Tate Modern, though, is that it’s just that: modern. As mentioned above, it does house some classical pieces, but it’s also clearly striving to be with, and indeed often ahead of the times, which is promising when it comes to hopes for getting young people and even schoolchildren involved and interested in cultural museums. Works that manifest this modernity include Jenny Holzer’s “Inflammatory Essays 1979-82” which are displayed on an enormous stretch of wall in the form of stripes of colourful posters, each coloured column indicating another “Inflamatory Essay” which is written over and over to cover the entire vertical stretch of the wall. These “Essays” as Holzer calls them are in extended statements detailing passionate, and often extremely contoversial opinions. Not only are these thought-provoking in and of themselves, at the time she was pursuing this project Holzer scattered these across the stretch of New York City, to incite opinionated reflections from random passers by. Another awe-inspiring project that feels distinctly modern is Yinka Shonibare CBE’s “The British Library.” This work takes up two large stretches of wall, and presents the onlooker with a towering corner bookcase, both wings of which are filled from top to bottom with books. This might not sound that unusual, but the fascinating part is that these books are bound in beautifully intricate Dutch Wax print fabric, the spines embellished with the names of first and second generation immigrants who have made crucial contributions to British culture. Shonibare has poignantly left some of the spines blank, in order to indicate the untold stories of future citizens. The room in which these bookcase have been placed is fitted with several interactive tablets, accessible to visitors. These tablets are directly linked to the website with which Shonibare’s work is paired, and visitors to the gallery can use them to learn documented stories of immigration experiences.