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The Millennium Projects

Model of Daniel Liebeskind's "Spiral" building at Victoria & Albert Museum

"The Spiral," photograph of model of Daniel Liebeskind's new building superimposed on photograph of its site at the Victoria & Albert Museum

By Michele Leight

LONDON - March 31, 2000 - At the worldwide, televised celebrations of the "Millennium" Dec. 31, 1999, there were great expectations that England would embark on a renaissance reflecting its official endorsement of the notion of great inspiring public works and events.

While for many American viewers, Paris and its luminescent Eiffel Tower won the day/night, especially since a much heralded plan to set the Thames in London "ablaze" was clouded by the smoke of so many fireworks, London is getting off to/on a new century in great style and with great purpose.

While the specificity of Millennium celebrations can be and was overhyped, ésprit and élan are very important culturally and clearly London has a good grasp again on them. It has a spectacular Millennium Dome designed by Sir Norman Foster (See a photograph of it in The City Review article on "The World of Contemporary Architecture by Francisco Asencio Cerver) that is an modern Arabian fantasy festooned with tall cranes near the ever-so corporately crisp Canary Wharf project designed by Cesar Pelli and a humongous Ferris Wheel, the 450-foot-tall London Eye with its thirty-two 25-person gondolas just down the Thames from the Houses of Parliament that demonstrates that the British have not lost their sense of humor. It also has the relatively new sinuous glass train station designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, a fine modernist poetic flourish and a new Globe Theater that just added an interactive museum close to the new Tate Modern that opens May 12.

A few years back, the National Gallery decided to expand at Trafalgar Square and while its addition designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown was a bit conservative and awkward their selection indicated that Britain was not afraid of controversy and "intellectual" architecture.

For those drawn back to the "old" familiar sights, of course, there are Westminster Abbey, The Tower, and the enchantment of the Embankment at sunset, the Houses of Parliament enveloped in Monet mists, or pale pink light, as tugboats and ferries plough back and forth across the Thames, and the myriad parks in spring are breathtakingly beautiful, with carpets of daffodils casting a yellow haze.

But the really exciting news is the rejuvenjation of many of the city’s other major cultural institutions with really impressive and exotic expansions.

The British Museum

Rendering of Sir Norman Foster's design for roof of courtyard at the British Museum

Computer generated rendering of Sir Norman Foster's new courtyard roof superimposed on aerial photo of The British Museum (picture courtesy of The British Museum)

The British Museum has long been the bastion of imperial might. It was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1753, occupying Montagu House, a 17th Century mansion on the present sight and was the earliest national museum in the United Kingdom. In 1823 Robert Smirke drew up proposals for a new Museum building, which was completed in the 1850s and its colonnaded facade was properly impressive.

Smirke’s Greek Revival building was designed around an internal courtyard, giving the public direct access to the galleries across a central garden. The facades of the courtyard were clad in portland stone.

Opening of Great Exhibition in 1851

"The Opening of the Great Exhibition by Queen Victoria on 1st May 1851," oil painting by Henry Courtney Selous. © Victoria and Albert Museum

In 1852 Sir Charles Barry produced a scheme for the inner courtyard to be covered with a glass roof, imitating the methods of construction for the Crystal Palace, the great glass exposition hall that astounded the world, shown above in a painting by Henry Courtney Selous (1803-90) in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Antonio Panizzi, the Museum’s Keeper of Printed Books, proposed instead a new Reading Room for the courtyard space. Panizzi won, and Sydney Smirke (Robert’s brother) designed the "Round" Reading Room, which was completed at the center of the courtyard in 1857.

The "Great Court" is in the throes of the most exciting expansion and restoration project, the highlight being Sir Norman Fosters "roof" of glass, stretching outward and around the central "Reading Room, which will create the largest covered plaza in Europe, recovering what has until now been one of the great lost public spaces of London.

The much anticipated opening of the "Great Court" of the British Museum, with its glass-covered roof, shown in the photograph above, is scheduled for October 2000 and will include renovations to the main concourse, the Clore Education Center and Center for Young Visitors, but not the Reading Room). The next month heralds the official opening of all parts of the Great Court, including the Reading Room, the Sainsbury African Galleries and the Joseph Hotung Gallery. The entire space, the size of the Wembly football pitch, will soon be spanned by a spectacular steel and glass roof. The Reading Room will be restored faithfully to its original 1857 decorative scheme.

The Great Court will increase public space at the museum by fifty percent, and will house an education center, exhibition galleries, a restaurant, café and Museum shops. The Reading Room will be open to the public for the first time, a departure from the previous "ticket holders only" policy, complemented by an innovative multimedia collections database. This world-famous room has harbored such literary giants as Karl Marx, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Rendering of new courtyard roof at the British Museum

Computer generated rendering of Sir Norman Foster's new courtyard roof in center of The British Museum (picture courtesy of The British Museum)

The complex form of the new glass "roof," a detail of which is shown above in a computer-generated rendering, represents an extraordinary feat of engineering; designed by computer, manufactured by robots and built by crane, it is the creation of the project’s architects, Foster and Partners, and engineers, Buro Happold.

Specialized surveying equipment ensures that the roof’s complex geometry is translated with the utmost precision from design to reality. The roof structure is being built to an astonishing accuracy of 10 millimetres. With a computer model of the roof in its memory, the theodolite checks three-dimensional coordinates by directing an infrared light beam at a holographic target which mimics the prism traditionally used in surveying. Sir Norman Foster has described the new enclosed space as "a great new public plaza for London."

The Round Reading Room was founded with the British Museum in the mid-nineteenth century, and was immediately hailed as one of the most remarkable interiors in London. Three radical "redecorations" have since then obliterated the original appearance of the room. Investigations by restoration specialists have revealed exactly how the Reading Room looked when completed in 1857. The Reading Room was one of the great cast-iron buildings of the nineteenth century: cast iron was the trendy, "new" material used for the construction of public buildings, following the most widely acclaimed example – Sir Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace of 1851.

The interior of the dome is a form of paper-maché called "fibrous slab," or patent wood, an invention registered in 1847 by C. F. Bielefeld. The inspiration for the idea is credited to Admiral Lord Nelson (who stands proudly atop the pillar at the centre of Trafalgar Square), who in 1805 used a mixture of hemp and caulk to waterproof the ships of HM Royal Navy. The flexibility of the hemp caulk counteracted the shrinking and leaking of the timbers as the fleet headed south to meet the French at the Battle of Trafalgar. Two tons of paint and 25 kilometers of 23.25 carat gold leaf (over 12,000 books of gold leaf) will just about wrap up the redecoration of the Reading Room!

The restoration and re-decoration of all the grand public rooms on the museum’s principal floor will include the grandest room of all – the Kings Library – the earliest and most magnificent part of Sir Robert Smirke’s building, and among the most important Regency interiors in London. It was purpose-built for the library of King George III, and presented to the nation by King George IV in 1823. It has now been removed to the British Library’s building in St. Pancras.

The Museum's plans for the Kings Library will be in keeping with its original purpose, and the original architecture respected by any future displays. Beginning with the eighteenth century, the great age of learning and discovery in which the British Museum was founded, the planned exhibition will introduce visitors to the ways in which knowledge has been gathered and classified in the past. It will show how the pioneering studies of nature and man formed the basis of the modern understanding of the world. Visually, it promises to be a breathtaking experience.

The British Museum is London’s principal tourist venue and the second-most-visited attraction in the country, next to Blackpool Beach. It has by far the highest level of attendance of any museum in the UK and is the most visited museum of its kind in the world. It is reassuring to see that the shoals of school children munching sandwiches in the entrance forecourt have not diminished over the years, equipped with well-worn backpacks and carefree laughter. Annual attendance figures at the museum have grown dramatically over the past twenty years, rising from two to six million. (In 1993, the museum has had as many as 13,000 people in the museum at the same time. Heathrow Airport, the busiest international airport in the world, handled 15,500 in its busiest hour the same year.)

This wonderful institution, like the National Gallery of Art and the Tate, is free to the public.

Individual donors, including the Queen, companies, foundations and trusts, have contributed 58 million pounds to its expansion and renovations. The Millennium Commission has donated 30 million pounds and 15.75 million pounds have come from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Great Court will be dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen.

"Must-sees" at the museum are the famous, and notorious, Elgin Marbles, now diplomatically known as the Parthenon Marbles. Many books are available at the museum's stores on this fascinating story, including book that have denounced Lord Elgin’s appropriation of these famous sculptures and carvings. Lord Elgin was British Ambassador at Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1799. Concerned about the destruction of Greek classical remains in Greece, he assembled a team of artists and architects to record what survived, and later he obtained permission from the authorities to remove marble sculptures from the frieze around the exterior of the Parthenon. Hey, he was a politician, give the guy a break, they said yes.

The sculptures arrived in London in 1802 and Elgin displayed them to the public; fourteen years later, overcome by financial problems, he sold them to the British Government. They caused a sensation then as they do now.

Dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, the Parthenon was the most important temple in ancient Athens. Built in the mid-sixth century BC, its architects were Ictinus and Callicrates, and the carved decorations were supervised by the famous sculptor Phidias. Below is an example of the exquisite beauty and ground-breaking realism of these works, "Two riders in the procession at the Great Panathenaic Festival (Pantelic marble, from the Parthenon circa 440 BC, west frieze, slab II.)

"Two Riders," part of the Elgin Marbles

"Two riders in the procession at the Great Panathenaic festival," pentellic marble, from the Parthenon, circa 440 BC, west frieze, slab II, (part of the Elgin Marbles), © The Trustees of the British Museum, reproduced from postcard printed by PJ Reproductions Ltd., London W3 8DH

It would be impossible to list most of the wonderful books, artifacts, coins (The Money Gallery is very popular with the young), paintings, prints, objects of great ethnographic significance and the highlights of the many world-class collections contained in this awesome Museum: the world’s greatest "adventurers" have left behind their "discovered" artifacts and their writings, and it takes an adventurous soul to navigate a place which challenges, inspires and restores order to the human spirit, as does this great Museum.

Cameo of Emperor Augustus

"The Emperor Augustus (27 BC- Ad 14), Roman sardonyx cameo, showing the emperor wearing the aegis, a goatskin breastplate modeled on that worn by Athena. (Gold diadem was added in the Middle Ages and restored in the 18th Century. 12.8 centimeters high. © The Trustees of the British Museum, reproduced from postcard printed by Blue Cube Ltd., Denham Uxbridge UB9 5ED

"The Emperor Augustus," (27 BC-AD14), a Roman sardonyx cameo, shown above, is just one of thousands of fabulous treasures at the British Museum. Augustus is shown wearing the aegis, a goatskin breastplate modelled on that worn by Athena, which was considered to have divine power.

Victoria & Albert Museum

Moving from Bloomsbury and the British Museum to South Kensington and the Victoria and Albert Museum is a change in tempo, and if time permits, Hyde Park offers striped "deck" chairs for 50 pence an hour (if the chap with the leather pouch finds you in time), or you can park yourself on a bench without worry. The Albert Memorial is a stately reminder that Prince Albert (and his wife, Queen Victoria), gave great support to the founding of the Victoria and Albert Museum, both being firm believers that all people deserved "culture", not just the wealthy, and in 1899 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone to the new grand facade and entrance, pulling together the more temporary structures previously known as the South Kensington Museum. It was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum.

There have been some changes at the V&A over the years, all of them positive and enhancing; the serene Buddha has departed from the inner courtyard, but the benches are still there and the peace and tranquillity have been enhanced by the plantings and elegant classical landscaping, redesigned by Roy Strong.

The big news, however, is the planned addition of Daniel Liebeskind’s "Spiral" along the Exhibition Road entrance to the Museum, facing the Museums of Science and Natural History. The photograph at the top of this article shows the Exhibition Road façade as it is today with the proposed "Spiral" in a photo-montage. The photograph below shows the attractive colonnade it will replace, which hopefully will find a home somewhere. While the loss of the colonnade might be sad, its replacement with Liebeskind's "Spiral" is extraordinarily good news for the world as it is a very spectacular design that is only superceded by Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as the most important new project in the world at the turn of the Millenium.

Colonnade will be replaced by Liebeskind building at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Attractive colonnade at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London will be replaced by "The Spiral," new building designed by Daniel Liebeskind (photograph by Michele Leight)

Today, as the Museum prepares to move into the next century, the founding principles of the Museum are as relevant as they were then, to educate and inspire people in art, craft and design and to foster creativity in present and future generations of designers and manufacturers. The "Spiral" is a ground-breaking initiative for the V & A, and Daniel Liebeskind’s building is testament to their commitment to combine revolutionary structural form with the very latest museum technology.

Model of the "Spiral" at the Victoria & Albert Museum by Daniel Liebeskind

Model of the "Spiral" by Daniel Liebeskind

Daniel Liebeskind is one of the world’s foremost architects; his Berlin-based studio was established in 1989, and has been involved in urban, architectural and cultural projects in France, Japan, China, the United States and Germany. His design of recently completed Jewish Museum in Berlin (see an illustration of a model of it in The City Review article on "Architecture For The Future," Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris, 1996) is one of the greatest buildings of the 20th Century. in Berlin). Liebeskind was Head of Architecture at Cranbrook Academy from 1978-85. He was appointed Senior Scholar to the John Paul Getty Center and has held positions as visiting lecturer at Harvard, the Royal Danish Academy of Art, the Louis Sullivan Professorship at Chicago, the Bannister Fletcher Professorship at the University of London, the Davenport Chair at Yale University. Currently he is Professor at UCLA and the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlusche.

Liebeskind has formed a close collaboration with Cecil Balmond, one of the leading design engineers in the world and a specialist in galleries and museums. Balmond is a Main Board member of the firm of Ove Arup & Partners, famous for such projects as the Sydney Opera House, Centre Pompidou, Kansai Airport and the Stuttgart Art Gallery. He is the Saarinen visiting professor at Yale University, School of Architecture.

The structure of the "Spiral" is complex and elegant, bold and exciting. Its walls rise in a series of inclined planes to form a self-supporting spiral, providing a spectacular sculptural presence in the urban landscape. The walls of the "Spiral" overlap and interlock in a strong, robust manner that gives the structure its stability. The internal walls which span between these walls are flat and column-free.

Another view of site for new Liebeskind building at the V & A

Another view of site of new Liebeskind building at the V & A (photograph by Michele Leight)

Continuing in a South Kensington tradition, the exterior of the Spiral will be clad in hand-crafted tiles, the color chosen to complement the Portland stone of the existing surrounding buildings of the V & A. Since it was founded in the 1850s, the Museum has used contemporary craftspeople to fit-out and decorate its buildings; the impressive "Morris Room", opened in 1868, was designed by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. The "Spiral" will continue this tradition, commissioning artworks to present the best of contemporary design. The total cost of the "Spiral" building is estimated at 80 million pounds. In April 2002, Mark Jones, the museum's director, said that the Spiral will be the second phase of the museum's $150 million expansion and that work on it should begin late next year and be completed in 2007.

In an article in the September 17, 2004 edition of The New York Times, however, Carol Vogel reported that "Citing a lack of government financing, the trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London announced yesterday that they had canceled plans to build a radically modern extension designed by Daniel Libeskind," adding that "The decision had been anticipated since mid-July, when the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected the museum's application for a $27 million grant to help cover the $110 million cost of the project."

Chandelier by Dale Chiluhy in entrance hall of Victoria & Albert Museum

Glass chandelier designed by Dale Chiluhy hangs beneath dome in entrance hall of the Victoria & Albert Museum (photograph by Michele Leight)

Returning to the present, the American Dale Chiluhy’s gorgeous contemporary blue glass "chandelier," shown above, floats ethereally beneath the domed entrance hall, with an impressive gift and bookshop available to the public before the ticket desk if you need to pick up a guide book to the museum's vast collections of decorative art, paintings, prints, textiles; the admission is five pounds, with senior citizen discounts and children are free. It is essential to have a map at the V & A, especially if there are specific galleries or collections you wish to reach and do not have all day to find them.

Off to the left upon entering in Gallery 48a are the magnificent "cartoons" by Raphael (1483-1520), commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The seven cartoons, which are ranked amongst the greatest artistic treasures in Britain, have belonged to the Royal Family since 1623. They have been on loan to the museum since 1865 – no doubt Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had something to do with that! The remarkable thing about them is that they are painted on multiple sheets of paper glued together; Raphael created them in small squares so the weavers could work easily from them. Later, they were joined to form the larger than life "sketches" they are today. He must have been quite a mathematician and one would imagine he would have appreciated the intricate tilework that will cover Liebeskind's "Spiral."

The subject of the cartoons are taken from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul and they alone would make the visit worthwhile, but there is more, much more. The V & A is the most persistently labyrinthine gallery in the world, and getting lost here is de rigeur. Take heart, wherever you end up, it will be worth it.

For those who love the Orient, there is the solid gold throne from India of Ranjit Singh (known to the British as the "Lion of the Punjab"). He sat in it rarely, preferring to sit cross-legged on carpets. He became Maharaja in 1801, and presided over one of the most splendid courts in the subcontinent. The Nehru Gallery contains Shah Jehan’s wine cup ( he built the most beautiful tomb in the world for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal), exquisite jewels, and Tipu Sultan’s (The Tiger of Mysore) macabre model of a tiger devouring a British soldier, a mechanical marvel prized by Tipu and kitted out with an organ that simulated the growls and shrieks of its British victims. After Tipu’s defeat at the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799, "Tipu’s Tiger," shown below, was seized by the British and became the most famous exhibit of the East India Company’s collection, later transferred to the V & A.

"Tipu's Tiger"

"Tipu's Tiger"

"The Great Bed of Ware" (1500-1750), made famous when Shakespeare included it in his play "Twelfth Night, was made for an inn in Ware, Herefordshire, and was acquired by the savvy proprietor to generate more business of those traveling to and from London. In those days hotels involved sharing a bed with a bunch of strangers (same sex!), hence the size. The British Galleries also contain many rooms from great English town and country houses, Henry VIII's portable writing desk (1525-6), and the diarist John Evelyn’s (1620-1706) cabinet, commissioned to accompany him on his "Grand Tour," without which no proper gentleman’s education was considered complete. It must have taken two men to cart it about, but that was par for the course, a bit of "home" whilst abroad for months.

The Dress Gallery, with costumes and "fashions" dating from the 16th Century to the present day, is always teeming with visitors, and recently included a striking focus on the current fascination of fashionistas with "black." Young sketchers were very much in evidence, blissfuly absorbed in rendering Jane Austenesque Regency "Empire" muslin gowns, Dior’s "New Look" and embroidered mantuas (the impossibly wide French dresses of the 1740s) described accurately by a young teenager as "armrests." Those dresses make anything fashionably outrageous today pale in comparison. It is sobering to remember in these days of denim and black just how flamboyantly men used to dress, covered in embroidery, ostrich feathered hats and silken hose. There are incredible displays of accessories through the centuries, most notably shoes.

The grand and the endearing share the spotlight at the V & A, which is part of its charm, and the eye juggles glorious regal gems of monarchs with Ernest Shepherd's simple sketches for A. A. Milne’s "Winnie the Pooh" and loyal "Piglet" and Beatrix Potter's illustrations for her famous tales of Peter Rabbit and Tigglywinkle, quietly conceived in her remote Lake District cottage. Moving forward to the 20th Century Gallery, is "Klange," ("Sounds"), published in 1913 in Munich by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and printed from woodblocks, the oldest printing technique the perfect foil for the modernity of his abstract, colorful imagery. The Americans Charles (1907-78) and his wife Ray (1913-88) Eames were successful in designing modern furniture for mass-production, and are well represented here.

"Cast" room at the V & A

"Cast" room, scanned from "V & A - A Hundred Highlights" published by the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996

The museum is filled with exotic and fascinating rooms such as its huge "cast" room, show above.

Defeated by exhaustion the visitor will be restored by the light and airy café, serving snacks as well as elegant salads and desserts, and the inner courtyard of this Victorian Museum is one of the most serene spots in London, rarely overrun with visitors, always inhabited by sparrows and the benches are free. A souvenir or postcards from the giftshop, so full of delectable merchandise and reading matter it is hard to choose, and it is time to re-enter the hurly burly traffic of Cromwell Road, where London’s double-decker buses are ready to connect visitors to the Underground and most destinations in the city. It is impossible to leave the V & A without a pang; for a few hours the graciousness of past times outpaces the speed and tenacity of the 21st Century so wonderfully highlighted by the "Spiral" that exuberantly bridges the gap between old and new.

Continuing in the great design tradition of the Museum, Daniel Liebeskind’s wonderful and great "Spiral" will be a London and world landmark that proudly looks forward to the future.

The Tate Modern

View of Tate Modern on Thames across from St. Paul's Cathedral

The building at the right is the former Bankside Power Station that is being converted into the Tate Modern across the Thames from St. Paul's Cathedral on the right

While Daniel Liebeskind's "Spiral" at the Victoria & Albert Museum will undoubtedly become the most spectacular modern building in London when it is completed since the high-tech Lloyds Building, the new Tate Modern museum may well become more popular.

On May 12, 2000, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Bankside Power Station will open to the public as Tate Modern. The original Tate remains in the original building on Millbank, which opened to the public in March 2000 as Tate Britain, reserving for its collections "British" art, created by well known masters such as Turner, Gainsborough and William Blake, but incorporating artists of many different nationalities and origins, like John Singer Sargeant, R.B. Kitaj and Mona Hartoum. (See The City Review article on "RePresenting Britain.")

Sir Giles is best known as the designer of London's famous and delightful red street telephone "box."

The Swiss architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron won the international competition for the conversion of Bankside Power Station which drew 148 entires designed to transform the landmark building into a gallery for the Tate's international collection of twentieth-century art, widely acknowledged to be one of the three or four most important in the world. Herzog & de Meuron were finalists in the competition for the major expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which was won by Yoshio Tanaguchi. (See The City Review article on the Museum of Modern Art competition that discusses Herzog & de Meuron's fine entry at length.)

The Tate Modern's collection consists of works by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Duchamp, Dali, Bacon, Giacometti, Pollock, Warhol and Louise Bourgeois and is one of the best in the world. The importance to London of the transformation of the abandoned Bankside Power Plant into a great modern art museum is underscored by the fact that it will be visually linked to St. Paul's Cathedral across the Thames with a bridge, the first one in central London since 1894. Sadly, the bridge's opening was marred by swaying problems.

The Bankside building, shown above, will be an energizing and imaginative combination of old and new; Herzog & de Meuron have respected the integrity of the original building and its soaring central chimney. The most dramatic change to the building is a glass structure running the length of the roof, which, in addition to adding two floors, will provide natural light for the upper galleries, creating spectacular views of London. When illuminated at night, it will become an important identifying feature of the building. The French-born American sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, has the honor of creating the inaugural work, sponsored by Unilever and commissioned by the Tate which will be unveiled in the 500-foot-long and 100-foot-high Turbine Hall (illustrated below) in May 2000 when Tate Modern opens.

Turbine Hall at Tate Modern

Former Turbine Hall will become major exhibition space

As can be expected the costs are staggering - 134.2 million pounds - funded in part by grants of 50 million pounds from the Millennium Commission and 6.2 million pounds from the Arts Council, two of the distributors of money raised from the National Lottery. English Partnerships, the government's urban regeneration agency, and Southwark Council have also made substantial investments, and significant funds have been raised from individuals, charities and foundations. The new gallery will help revive a wide area of inner London, and help to reconfigure cultural tourism along the South Bank of the Thames. It is estimated that it will help create 2,400 new jobs and bring direct economic benefits to London of between 50 and 90 million pounds each year.

Visitors will enter by a new main entrance at the west end of the building, and descend down a ramp into the vast former turbine hall. The galleries for works of art will be arranged on three levels, creating a total display space of 14,000 square metres. A café designed to seat 240 and a restaurant seating 200 in a "light box" on level 7 will offer panoramic views over the river.

Another view of the great Turbine Hall at Tate Modern

Another view of Turbine Hall

Tate Modern 2000, The Collection, will break with tradition and depart from the chronological groupings of artworks and schools and, like Tate Britain's RePresenting Britain, display its international artworks in themed groups. The thematic approach will enable displays to cut across movements and disciplines, creating exciting juxtapositions, fusing the historic with the contemporary, and painting and sculpture with film, video and photography; well known works such as Henri Matisse's "Snail," Claude Monet's "Waterlillies" and Francis Bacon's "Three Studies at the Base of a Cruxifixion" will be displayed in a new context. The rich holdings of the contemporary work of living artists will be given more exposure. The director of the Tate recently participated in a forum on "new museums" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which is also expanding and which has been experimenting with similar approachs to exhibitions (see The City Review's article on ModernStarts, a thematically oriented exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1999.)

For the first time, displays at the Tate will make fuller use of archival documentation, film and photography. Tate Modern will open with an "In Focus" look at Picasso's "Weeping Woman", the screening of Leger's film "Ballet Mechanique," and a small exhibition of photographs from the Victoria and Albert Museum (including works by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray.)

Tate Modern will also open with substantial loans from the Froehlich Foundation in Stuttgart, including works by Nauman, Warhol, Beuys and Flavin. For the opening year, Level 4 will be used to show some of the large-scale installation art acquired by the Tate in the last ten years, rarely shown due to lack of space and such artists as Matthew Barney, Rebecca Horn, Cornelia Parker and Bill Viola will be represented.

Admission is free except for temporary exhibitions and special events, so if a visit to London is in the cards on or after May 12th, 2000, hop on the Tube (British for the London Subway) and take the Jubilee Line to Southwark, or the Circle & District Line to Blackfriars - an try to make time for lunch at the café or restaurant up on the roof. On Fridays and Saturdays dinner would be a spectacular option, as the restaurant is open till 10 PM.



Entrance to Imperial War Museum

Entrance to the Imperial War Museum is rather imposing

If you have a non-sightseeing male teenager on your hands and have given up on ever finding a cultural activity they might deign to enjoy, take them to the Imperial War Museum, on Lambeth Road. Young children of both sexes, war veterans and young couples vied with blazered schoolboys and the back-packers on a recent mild spring afternoon for a closer look at tanks, guns and missiles in the Large Exhibits Gallery, the impressive central space of Arup Associates' redevelopment of the original building; overhead, suspended from the glass roof, flew a Supermarine Spitfire Mark IA, which saw action in the legendary Battle of Britain. Another Allied "star" was the North American P-51 Mustang, which could escort bombers to Berlin and back with auxiliary fuel tanks.

Large exhibit hall at Imperial War Museum

One of many spectacular exhibit halls at the Imperial War Museum. Photograph by Michele Leight

Every battle or conflict involving Britain or the Commonwealth since 1914 is represented here, which includes a surprising number of "American" wars, such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the more insidious and subversive forms of terrorist warfare present in today's world. The World War II exhibits are particularly moving and the spirit of Churchill presides, cigar between his lips and a steadfast gaze: "…Never was so much owed by so many to so few," his brilliant as always homage to the fighter pilots of all nationalities who fought and died in the Battle of Britain. Of great interest to all visitors is one of the principal features of the First World War - a walk-through recreation of a front-line trench on the Somme in the autumn of 1916. The recreation is brought to life with special lighting, sound and smell effects. You might have to wait a while for one of the "periscopes" for enemy viewing. The army doctors "quarters" in the dug-out are a particularly sobering experience.

It is refreshing to find the exhibits to be more of a world history lesson than a guns and ammo fest, and fascinating to count the different nationalities present throughout the displays; in the "Gulf War" section I found myself wedged in between a pair of elegantly hatted Orthodox Jews from New York, and three Arabic speaking gentlemen, all eagerly reading the detailed captions and statistics charts.

The museum abounds in fascinating photos and exhibits such as pictures of T. E. Lawrence in the desert, the front of a Lancaster bomber, wonderful wartime posters, such as the one shown below, and a V2 rocket, a stark reminder of how London suffered during the Blitz when a bomb actually fell very close to St. Paul's Cathedral but fortunately was defused by Lieutenant Robert Davies.

"Keep Mum" poster

"Loose Lips Sink Ships" was not the only motto that adorned World War II posters

The current major "draw" to this museum is the exhibition, "From the Bomb to the Beatles," designed by Sir Terence Conran and CD Partnership, which documents the social and cultural changes in the post-war years - 1945 to 1965 - through film, paintings, photographs, fashion, food and posters such as the original film poster for James Bond's "From Russia With Love," (starring the incomparable Sean Connery). This exhibit is on till May 29th, 2000.

The museum was opened in the Crystal Palace by King George V in 1920 and was reopened in its present home by the Duke of York, shortly to become King George VI in 1936. In 1986, the museum initiated a major redevelopment scheme, the first stage of which, designed by Arup Associates, has been completed and provides the museum with three times its former exhibition space. More development is planned.

Admission is 5 pounds 20 pence, Senior Citizens, Students and UB 40s 4 pounds 20 pence and children are free. It is open daily from 10-6, except for December 24, 25 and 26. Tubes are Lambeth North, Elephant & Castle or Waterloo and just follow the signs to the Imperial War Museum. You will have to walk for a good 10 minutes, but it is well worth it; even teenagers perk up on arrival. There is an elegant café in the museum and a wonderful gift and bookshop.

See the City Review article on The Wallace Collection celebrates its centennial during the Millennium

The Victoria & Albert Museum has a website at http://www.vam.ac.uk

The Tate Britian and Tate Modern have websites reached through http://www.tate.org.uk

"Harvest of Innocence," a book on coping with risky behavior by Michele Leight, is at www.amazon.com and at www.ashraya-ny.org

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