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RePresenting Britain

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Tate Britain Opens

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Famous Gallery at Milbank reverts to original intention of founder as the National Gallery of British Art

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Exterior of Tate Britain

Tate Britain, with neon entablature by Martin Creed that declares "the whole world + the work = the whole world," (photograph by Michele Leight)

By Michele Leight

LONDON, March 23, 2000 – The Tate Gallery at Millbank here was re-launched today as Tate Britain.

The re-opening is a very important cultural event in England as it will soon be followed in May by the opening of the Tate Modern in a former power plant at Bankside on the south side of the Thames across from St. Paul’s Cathedral on the north side to which it will be joined by a new bridge. (See The City Review article on the Tate Modern and other major new projects such as Sir Norman Foster's great roof at the British Museum and Daniel Liebeskind's fabulous "Spiral" at the Victoria & Albert Museum.)

The division of the Tate’s famed collections will revert the grand Millbank facility, shown above, to the original intentions of its founder as the National Gallery of British Art and put its modern and contemporary collections and exhibitions into a giant and very prominent conversion of a London landmark that has been redesigned by Herzog & Meuron, the Swiss architectural firm that was one of the finalists for the recently approved expansion in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

While the exterior of the Bankside facility will not be radically altered, its interiors will and are widely expected to become a major tourist attraction a bit on a par with the justly celebrated recent opening of a branch of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain, designed by Frank Gehry and widely heralded as one of the most important buildings of the 20th Century.

London, of course, is a major cultural center whose other jewels include the British Museum, the Victorian & Albert Museum, the Courtauld Institute, and the Wallace Collection, among others. London got the Millennial fever early as well as getting the grand projects bug from France and the Tate’s major expansion projects are being matched by the British Museum, which has commissioned Sir Norman Foster to redo its central court, and the Victorian & Albert Museum has commissioned Daniel Liebeskind, the architect of the recently opened Holocaust Museum in Berlin, which also happens to be one of the century’s great architectural designs, to create a "spiral" along one of its facades.

These British projects are both daring and costly and represent a very major commitment by the institutions and England to reassert its cultural leadership and to revitalize London for the new millennium.

The Tate has been a very special focal point of attention and affection since it opened in 1897 as the National Gallery of British Art on the site of the Millbank Prison, which had been demolished in 1892. Its popularity can be explained in part by its incredible holdings of the works of Joseph William Mallord Turner, whose abstract achievements predate by almost a century American "Abstract Expressionism."

If Turner’s expansive power has been unleashed at the Tate for generations of museum-goers, it has been greatly balanced by the Tate’s extensive holdings of another of England's great artists, William Blake, whose dreamy, pensive works are in marked contrast to the aggressiveness of Turner.

These two artists well define the English temperament of elegant restraint and real, majestic power.

As England’s empire and influence dwindled in the post-World War II era, it has seen its vitality vitiated by the emergence of New York as the world’s cultural and financial capital, the emergence of the Euromarket as a financial force, the dramatic public commitment to "great" architectural projects, first in France and then in Germany, and finally the sensational and revelatory excitement created by Frank Gehry’s quite incredible Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa.

England, however, has not been asleep during these upheavals and revolutions and its "high-tech" architects such as Sir Norman Foster, Sir Richard Rogers, James Stirling, and Nicholas Grimshaw have long been in the vanguard of technological innovation in design, even as Prince Charles has quite brilliantly but not without controversy led an attack on bad design and campaigned vigorously for historic preservation and fine contextual design. Prince Charles’s attacks on the carbuncles and monstrosities of much post-World War II design has been a very important, and quite unusual, aid in the difficult battle to raise design standards not only in England, but also everywhere. His influence has been felt in plans to redevelop areas close to St. Paul’s Cathedral and also in the recent expansion of the National Gallery of Art by American architects, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown. Their addition is unexciting and bland on the exterior but works well in the important interiors and while disappointing overall did not seriously harm the overall context of the National, whose treasures are perhaps the greatest legacy of Britain’s most fantastic empire.

Museums, of course, are not the only evident signs of the "new" London. Indeed, Foster’s Millennium Dome, across the Thames from Cesar Pelli’s quite handsome, corporate enclave at Canary Wharf, and the 500-foot-high Ferris Wheel, across the Thames and a bit to the east, thankfully, of Big Ben, are important, new landmarks that clearly indicate that England is awake and dreaming and still jovial. The Houses of Parliament, Piccadilly, Buckingham Palace, Pall Mall, and the Tower, of course, still remain heroically intact.

The Tate, then, brings us back to a rather intimate order whose charm is its human-scale. (The British Museum and its treasures represent the grandeur of the past empire while the V&A’s myriad, subtle treasures delve almost infinitely into the decorative imagination. The British Museum, by and large, addresses the great public artistic achievements of society. The V&A addresses the private and personal aesthetic world. The Tate addresses the social, interpersonal realm, the one probably with the most "meaning" for most people.)

It was, therefore, an exciting opening for Londoners and the British in general, with newscasters emotionally describing the Tate as Britain’s "own" gallery through the day whose dismal skies had turned the Thames a murky gray, banishing the glorious sunshine of the previous week, but nothing could dispel the sense of expectation as press and BBC camera crews ascended the gracious steps of this beautiful museum. On the façade of the building, shown at the top of this article, the base of the building’s ornate building now displays Martin Creed’s neon text that declares "the whole world + the work = the whole world," an art work commissioned by the Tate as part of the Art Now program.

The Tate was designed to house the collection of 19th Century painting and sculpture given to the nation by Sir Henry Tate and a group of British paintings transferred from the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. In 1917, it received a bequest of modern paintings from the collection of Sir Hugh Lane and was formally constituted as the National Gallery of Modern Foreign Art. It was closed during World War II during which it was extensively damaged, some evidence of which is still visible on the west facade. In 1955, it was officially separated from the National Gallery and established as an independent institution.

For many, the Tate is "our own" museum; we studied there in our youth, researched there as we moved on, and return time and again for the pure joy of it, reflecting with the glorious Turners, paying homage to the "old guard," Reynolds, Lely and Gainsborough, and hoping to come across a new artist never seen before. The Tate was youth-friendly, less intimidating than other museums to do a quiet days sketching in. It is reassuring to find it has remained approachable and user- friendly. The elegant, muraled restaurant remains, and the addition of a minimalist, self-service café with good, reasonably priced snacks and meals takes the edge off trying to find a quick meal in an area very short on eateries of any kind. The service in both facilities was excellent and courteous.

The much heralded changes were immediately apparent to anyone who has visited the Tate regularly; for those who will visit for the first time, they are in for a treat. Gone are the chronologically arranged galleries. In the inaugural show of the new Tate Britain, "RePresenting Britain, 1500-2000," the title speaks for itself and 100 paintings spanning 500 years are now thematically arranged, touching on a wide variety of subjects, by artists of many different nationalities.

This change in presentation by the Tate reflects new approaches to the study of art history in the "politically correct" 1980’s and 1990’s that sought to consider art not merely as objects but as part of broader cultural frameworks. These "Post-Modern," "Deconstructivist" ideas began to take hold in academia and with some critics and museum curators were challenged to respond, and experiment with new interpretations and displays. Art was no longer considered solely within its traditional framework of fine art, but also within the crosscurrents and interconnections within the social, socio-economic and political worlds in which they existed.

In an age of multi-culturalism, is it possible to be "Culturally correct"? Some curmudgeons argue that art is a matter of refinement and comparative valuations and therefore cannot help but be "elitist" and that the acceptance of all "art" on a "level playing field" demeans it. Quality is important, they sigh.

In his foreword to the exhibition’s catalogue, Stephen Deuchar, the director of the Tate, provided the following commentary:

"Though the concept of a national gallery of British art may not seem automatically modern, with its roots in a nationalist, centralist Victorian ethic scarcely in harmony with twenty-first century society, Tate Britain’s agenda is determindedly contemporary. As its title, and the name of this book, tend to imply, its concern is with art’s place in the political and cultural entity that is Britain - and questions about art’s contributions to varying kinds of national identity will certainly form an undercurrent to our programme of displays, exhibitions and publications. In today’s immediate climate of progressive regional devolution on one hand and European integration on the other, and with increasing awareness of a population representing many ethnic and social positions, interrogating the roles of art in defining and challenging ideas of national identity may be a responsibility for Tate Britain, but it is also an exciting opportunity. For as well as providing a rich diversity of meaning and aesthetic pleasure, art can offer a key to opening up some of the pressing questions and debates about the nation its history and its future."

"No Woman No Cry"

"No Woman No Cry," by Chris Ofili, acrylic, resin, oil, pencil, paper collage, Letraset, glitter, map pins, elephant dung

The Tate, which figured prominently in a recent controversy in New York City because the Brooklyn Museum of Art held an exhibition, "Sensations," that originated at the Tate and became a cause celebre in New York over the inclusion of a rather beautiful portrait, partially made with elephant dung, of the Madonna by Chris Ofili, cares very much about quality. Ofili, who won its prestigious Turner Prize, is represented in this exhibition by "No Woman No Cry,: an acrylic, oil, resin, pencil, paper collage, Letraset, glitter, map pins and elephant dung work on canvas with two dung supports, that was one of the central exhibits in the Turner Prize exhibition in the year Ofili won, 1998, shown above.

This reshuffling and reexamination of a museum’s holdings is not a phenomenon unique to the Tate, whose director recently participated in a symposium at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which is currently having a year-long series of exhibitions that also take a thematic rather than chronological approach to the display of its treasures as it prepares for a major expansion of its facilities.

The thematic approach is not without some controversy for its occasional strange juxtapositions and out-of-context presentations, but there is little question that its enforced "freshness" is often surprising, exciting and interesting. For habitués of these cultural institutions, the rehangings can shock, but they definitely induce a refocusing on the individual works of art that is healthy, although it remains to be seem whether it really is wise to completely chuck the more traditional, chronological and historically contextual methodology that certainly has many merits.

In any event, far from wallowing in nationalistic sentimentality, the new displays at the Tate inspire rigorous thinking about what art "is" or should be; the richness of Britain’s culturally diverse society are reflected in the sculptor Mona Hartoum’s Middle Eastern background, R.B.Kitaj’s Jewish heritage, and the legendary James McNeil Whistler’s American roots fused with his extraordinary Japanese sensibilities – all firmly represented here as "British."

Not for a moment does the viewer lose sight of those quintessential "British" painters, Turner, Hogarth or Blake. Hogarth and Blake who are given solo displays. Hogarth in the "O The Roast Beef of Old England" section of the exhibit and Blake "on his own’ within the "Visionary Art" theme of "Literature and Fantasy" section. Other single room displays are dedicated to the most celebrated British artists, David Hockney, Walter Sickert and, in the rotunda gallery, Gainsborough.

In an innovative and thought-provoking series of "themed"galleries, many of the Tate Gallery’s best known and highly publicized paintings are displayed beside humbler but historically relevant works. In "Public and Private"(Portraits) the viewer will find the earliest painting in the collection, "A Man in a Black Cap" by John Bettes (active 1531-1570), painted in 1545 in the style of Hans Holbein, who had worked at the court of Henry VIII.

Elizabeth I

"Elizabeth I," attribued to Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1575

Nearby is a stunning portrait of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I (circa 1575) attributed to Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619). Her elegant hands rest on an elaborately embroidered and bejeweled gown, above which glitters a large jewel of a Phoenix, a mythical bird, reborn out of fire, symbolizing the unmarried Queen’s virginity. This portrait is very similar to the famous miniature of Elizabeth I (1572) in the National Portrait Gallery.

Gazing across at Queen Elizabeth from the opposite wall is Sir Cedric Morris’(1889-1982) "Belle of Bloomsbury," (1948). "Belle" is a georgeous white bull-terrier, portrayed in her own right and not as an accompaniment to a human being as was customary in portraits of earlier times. She is reduced to essentials, painted in a direct style, and is a humorous touch in a room brimming over with aristocrats and monarchs, and a gentle reminder that the British love their dogs.

Sir Cedric Morris founded the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, where Lucian Freud was a student (b. 1922). "I want the paint to work as flesh" said Freud. One of many portraits he painted of bald and bulky Leigh Bowery shares the same gallery. A penetrating study of Freud’s first wife, "Girl With a White Dog (1950-5) illustrated on the cover of the catalog "RePresenting Britain," by Martin Myrone combines his signature psychological intensity with meticulous technique.

"The Cholmondeley Ladies"

"The Cholmondeley Ladies," (circa 1600-10), artist unknown

One of the most spectacular paintings at the Tate is the naïve and mysterious "The Cholmondeley Ladies,"(circa 1600-10), pronounced Chumley, believed to date from the early 17th Century. The artist is unknown, but an inscription to the lower left of the painting reads: "Two ladies of the Cholmondeley Family/ Who were born on the same day/ Married on the same day/ And brought to bed (gave birth) on the same day." However, the inscription was added later, possibly during the eighteenth century, and probably represents members of the Cholmondeley family, as it once belonged to a descendant. The sumptuously dressed ladies were probably sisters, each holding a baby in mind-blowingly elaborate christening finery; "The formality of this image refers to aristocratic tomb sculpture of the period, which has a similar stiffness and symmetry in its presentation of the human figure," observed Martin Myrone in the catalogue for "RePresenting Britain, and the "Chumley" ladies are illustrated on the catalogue’s front cover.

"Lady of the Spencer Family"

"Lady of the Spencer Family," (1633-8), by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

The most thought-provoking juxtapositions are not the obvious ones; the elegant "Lady of the Spencer Family," (1633-8), an ancestor of the equally elegant late Diana, Princess of Wales, by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), is found in the same company as "The Beloved," by Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882), based on Dante’s Beatrix. The breath-taking beauty of the model, not landed gentry having an expensive portrait painted, but a "working girl" in real life, is idealized in Pre-Raphaelite style by placing her whitest of complexions directly above that of her negro servant girl. Her fair Englishness dominates the composition, as do the sumptuous "exotic" textiles, both symbols of Britain’s vast colonial Empire and commercial dominance at that time, just over a century ago.

In the same "group" as these ladies is Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) grand composition, "Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen," (1773). Hymen was the God of Marriage in Greek Mythology, and the painting was commissioned by the Irish politician, Luke Gardner, to commemorate his "betrothal" to the beautiful, dewy complexioned, Elizabeth Montgomery, who is shown at the center of the composition, flanked by her two sisters. Elegant and impressive portraits of women were commissioned to commemorate engagements, marriages, the woman’s "worth" as a wife, mother, or "commodity in the elite marriage market of her day…"This combination of high culture and basic market instincts was typical of Eighteenth Century polite society…"

Throughout the displays of paintings there are reminders of Anglo-American ties; John Singleton Copley’s (1738-1815) "The Death of Major Pierson, 6 January, 1781," painted in 1783, portrays the young British Major’s death during a skirmish with French troops; Copley was a "populist" and desired the widest possible audience for his dramatic scenes of contemporary events. He took the unprecedented step of privately renting a gallery to exhibit his work and charging admission, instead of the more conventional venue of the "official" Royal Academy, thereby removing art from the preserve of the wealthiest members of society, and opening up his doors to the general public – in true democratic, American fashion.

The American born James MacNeil Whistler (1834-1903) caused a sensation in the art world by taking John Ruskin, the most powerful and influential art critic of his day, to court for "disparaging" his work, and winning, not money, but his dignity and integrity as an artist; he was awarded one guinea in damages. The house he resided in along Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, bears a blue and white plaque honoring his time spent there; not far away are similar plaques recalling the presence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and – John Ruskin. Whistler’s legendary eccentricity and taste for Japanese decoration imbues the wistful portrait of "Miss Cicely Alexander – Harmony in Grey and Green," 1872, wearing a white muslin dress, and an extraordinary hat and sash, designed by Whistler to enhance his painting; it was commissioned by Cicely’s father, the collector W.C. Alexander, and is perceptively described in the catalogue by Elizabeth and Joseph Penell as "…The pose of Velasquez, the decoration of Japan, welded in his own way…" Cicely is a symbol of her family’s social standing and success, beautifully "packaged" by Whistler, who clearly understood his client’s desires.

"Carnation Lilly, Lilly Rose" 1885-6, by John Singer Sargeant (1856-1925), offers a less formal portrait of the illustrator Frederick Barnard’s daughters, who are comfortably attired in unrestricting muslin dresses, absorbed in lighting Japanese lanterns, (an exotic touch), in the garden. They are not "posed" and their relaxed demeanor signifies a "let up" in the repressed Victorian attitude toward children – that they should be seen and not heard. It is a refreshing and charming portrait and a departure from Sargeant’s usual commissions of the wealthy and fashionable of his day; he was much sought after by "society" for his elegant compositions and virtuoso technique. The spontaneous nature of this painting is like a breath of pure, fresh air.

Another section of the exhibition, "City Life," opens the viewer up to the "public" aspect of "Private and Public." The visual references – humour, alienation, pleasure and poverty – of urban life in Britain are captured in Gilbert and George’s (1943 and 1942 respectively) "Red Morning Trouble," (1977), a study in photos on paper of ordinariness, reinforced by a grid of black lines of each photo, recalling medieval stained glass. Gilbert and George met at St. Martin’s School of Art in the late ‘60’s, and proclaimed themselves "living sculptures" in 1970, thereby challenging traditional ideas about what art "is."

"The Port of London"

"The Port of London," 1906, by André Derain

André Derain (1880-1954), as the leading "Fauve," was under pressure to paint an "updated" view of the Thames, which had been painted a few years earlier by Claude Monet, "The Port of London," 1906, a stunning composition in signature "Fauve" primary colors, is devoid of mists and offers a clear-eyed interpretation of this famous scene; the bold contours of the steamship in the foreground is a symbol of London’s status as a modern and commercial European capital. It also asserted Derain’s "modern" Fauvist style.

"An Arch of Westminster Bridge," 1750, by Andrew Scott, (1702-1772), is another painterly exercise in "one-upmanship," designed to compete with Canaletto’s "View’s of Venice," and stimulated by the Venetian painter’s arrival in London. Canaletto wins hands-down, but it was a brave try by Scott, who , like many other artists, were inspired by Canaletto’s virtuoso scenes of Venetian life, and sought to reproduce them in their own "milieu."

Switching themes to the landscape of the mind and the imagination, the "Word and Image" section and the "Visionary Art" section explore the relationships between words and images in revealing literature as a source of great power and significance.

"According to a well-worn myth about British art," observed Mr. Myrone in the exhibition’s catalogue, "the national culture has always been oriented towards literature rather than the visual arts. The cultural achievement of ‘our nation’ has purportedly been in the hands of Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth, rather than those of painters and sculptors."

Mr. Myrone goes on to explain the complexities caused by the Reformation in England, where the church "establishment" could not be counted on as patrons, in sharp contrast to the European practice at that time of Roman Catholic "backing" of art and sculpture for religious purposes, further endowed by the active patronage of princes and the nobility. Despite this disadvantage, individualist visual interpretations of the spiritual, or "visionary" in art can be found in works by artists as diverse, (and movingly eccentric), as Samuel Palmer (1805-1881), William Blake (1757-1827), and more recently in the paintings of Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) and Ronald Moody (1900-1984). "It is nonetheless true that British artists have recurrently turned to textual sources for their subject matter, and that in so doing have helped give literature a crucial role in defining the different national cultures," Myrone added.

Henry Fuseli’s (1741-1825) "Titania and Bottom" illustrates a scene from Shakespeare’s "A Midsummers Nights Dream"- Titania’s magic potion ensures she will fall in love with the first person she sees, who turns out to be Bottom, with the head of an ass. Shakespeare had the ultimate sense of humor and of irony.

Fuseli’s fantastical, theatrical style was well suited to illustration, a point not lost on his publisher, John Boydell, an astute businessman and entrepreneur, who commissioned a series of illustrations of Shakespeare’s work. Fuseli’s penchant for tackling bizarre and emotional subject matter, artificially "darkened" to resemble old masters, appealed to a broad audience, members of the general public, and not only those who were wealthy enough to afford to buy art or pay pricey club memberships.

William Hogarth, (1697-1764), whose self portrait without a wig (horrors) with his trusty Pug beside him, (The Painter and His Pug), graces a full page beside the introduction to the exhibition catalog, and with good reason; Hogarth was the literary and artistic trail-blazer of his day. He drew on the life of the city around him, which he clearly enjoyed and experienced to the fullest, and endeared himself to the public at large by re-locating his stories in plays, musicals and popular publications. In addition he was a formidable painter and possessed the self-deprecating humour and eccentricity that many consider to be the hallmark of the English character. He was well-known in his life-time for his comic but moralizing prints of modern life.

Despite his devil-may-care, wigless attire and rough and ready scar above his right brow, his portrait rests on books by Shakespeare, Milton and Swift. In this self-portrait, "O, The Roast Beef of Olde England," (1748), and "A Scene from The Beggars Opera,"(1731) the full scope and talent of this "popular" painter, intellectual and satirist can be fully appreciated. Hogarth was totally in sync with Shakespeare in his compulsion to reach "the common man," that is, everyman.

By the Victorian era, "art for the masses," was more readily available through the mass production of high-quality, affordable, re-productions. In addition there were art-exhibitions now available to the general public, epitomized by the establishment of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which had begun its life as a temporary exhibition hall, but made permanent by the overwhelming response of the public.

Ophelia

Large detail of "Ophelia" by Sir John Everett Millais

Sir John Everett Millais’ (1829-1896) beautiful "Ophelia" (1851-2), floating beneath a weeping willow , singing in her madness as she drowns, was in real life Elizabeth Siddal, whose father sent Millais the doctor’s bill when poor Lizzy caught a dreadful cold. She did survive the ordeal of days in a cold bath, (Millais needed to base his drowning figure on "observation") and ended up marrying Rossetti. She features in many of the Pre-Raphaelite painting of the era.

"The Lady of Shallott," (1888), by John William Waterhouse, (1849-1917), illustrates the famous poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Henry Wallis’(1830-1916) "Chatterton"(1856) is a chilling yet spellbinding depiction of the teenage poet’s death by suicide in a garret, poetry manuscripts strewn everywhere. It is a typically "high minded," Victorian painting, made fascinating by the connections between eroticism, death and the poetic impulse, and just the kind of image that would be popular and "marketable" in print.

Fast-forwarding to modern times and specifically to Marcel Duchamp and the Pop artists of the 60's, literature literally transformed into "text", and disrupted the "representational" role of painting. It is impossible not to notice that it is "neon" text which greets the visitor to the Tate today, with Martin Creed’s "the whole world + the work = the whole world" emblazoned on the façade of the building, as shown in the photograph at the start of this article.

In the "Home and Abroad" section of the exhibition, the overwhelming impact of landscape painting within the visual arts tradition in Britain is examined through the works of Jan Sieberechts, George Stubbs (yes, the horse painter), Thomas Gainsborough, Paul Nash and the one and only Joseph Mallord William Turner. It must be noted here that Turner had such a high percentage of superb paintings to his credit that despite the fact that he has the Clore Gallery crammed with beautiful work, there are enough left over to warrant "highlighting" at the "Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites,"(The Slave Ship") a special exhibition at the Tate, the Venetian scenes in "Artists Abroad," and superb sketches, oils and watercolors at the V & A, The National Gallery, The Queens Gallery and in every major British country house and museum in Britain. This man "worked," which is our good fortune.

"A Bigger Splash" by David Hockney

"A Bigger Splash" by David Hockney

The "Artists Abroad" section is a fascinating journey around the globe, through Turner’s mythical Venetian waterscapes, Paul Nash’s haunting images of the Second World War as an "official" war artist, and David Hockney’s idealized, super-sunny California swimming pools; all displaced Englishmen moving from country to country, interpreting the idea of travel.

It is with the images of Turner’s Venice and Hockney’s California that this particular "journey" ends, with strong recommendations to allow enough time in London for this extraordinary museum, and it seems appropriate that Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Tate, should have the final word: "…Tate Britain’s program is not intended as an extended investigation into the Britishness of British art. But there is a clear commitment to considering the Tate’s collection in new ways…Rather than presenting and interpreting individual works only in relation to their immediate peers or periods, some of our displays and exhibitions are deliberately exploring how art across the centuries has interacted with a range of circumstances and conditions, with particular kinds of subject matter, and with a variety of reference points far beyond the history of stylistic development that has been the traditional preoccupation of the art museum. This means that some of the Tate’s best known British works are appearing in Millbank’s galleries in fresh contexts – a nostalgic Hitchens landscape from twentieth century wartime Britain, for example, beside an eighteenth century Gainsborough that helped inspire it, or Spencer’s visions set among the works of his visionary heirs and forebears. These new and sometimes surprising settings for even the most familiar work will, I hope, be one way of actively encouraging the appreciation and understanding of British art by all our visitors…"

Entrance to the Clore Gallery

Entrance to the Clore Gallery at the Tate, postcard photo

Turner, of course, has the entire Clore Gallery, whose entrance is shown above, devoted to his work, and is also featured in the major exhibition "Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites," (March 9 - May 29, 2000), an important and excellent show. (See the separate review in The City Review). A sublime Turner, "Norham Castle, Sunrise," circa 1845, oil on canvas, 90.8 by 121.9 centimeters, shown below, is included in the "RePresenting Britain exhibition. The catalogue notes that it is an unfinished work: "Turner would never have exhibited a painting in this state, and it was only at the turn of the twentieth century that such works began to be fully appreciated. At that time, his extraordinary free treatment of light, colour and atmosphere was seen as pre-empting the artistic innovations of the French Impressionists, allowing critics to claim the existence of a distinctively British tradition as modern and radical as anything on the Continent." Obviously!

"Norham Castle, Sunrise"

"Norham Castle, Sunrise," by Joseph Mallord William Turner, circa 1845

In another section of this fine exhibition, John Constable’s sketch for "The Hay-Wain", 1820, and fourteen other works, generously loaned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, have been combined with a selection of the Tate’s own collection to give an in-depth view of this great and well-loved British artist’s individualistic vision of the English landscape.

The remainder of the galleries display works by artists as diverse as Nicholas Hilliard and Damien Hirst, Britain’s own "enfant terrible" who might shock but never bore the viewer, and Ben Nicholson’s paintings which fill another gallery and seem more beautiful with each passing year. One day will not be enough to take in all the creative wonders the Tate has to offer. The highlights of future shows will be included with this review.

Mona Hatoum sculpture in Duveen galleries

Central Duveen Galleries at the Tate with large sculpture by Mona Hatoum

Also currently on view at the Tate is Mona Hatoum’s one woman show, "The Entire World as a Foreign Land," which has been specially created for Tate Britain’s central Duveen Galleries, is the first in a series of annual sculpture exhibitions (24 March – 23 July 2000). Hatoum uses everyday household objects as a means of exploring concepts of domestic comfort and efficiency. A mechanical gadget used for slicing vegetables, for example, is dramatically enlarged. Hatoum’s transformation of seemingly innocent domestic gadgetry exposes their beauty and malevolence, as instruments capable of inflicting pain or even death. Hatoum has also used installation, video and performance to explore political issues, the mechanics of power and oppression, and the strengths and weaknesses of the human condition. She is a leading contemporary artist, and has lived in Britain since the early 1980's.

An inkling of how energized the "new" Tate has become can be gleaned from a brief list of its forthcoming exhibitions:

"New British Art 2000: Intelligence" (on view from 6 July – 24 September 2000), the first in a series of major exhibitions of contemporary art to be held every three years at Tate Britain, will provide a dynamic interpretation of current work. Centered around a central idea, each exhibition will bring together a range of works by artists of different generations. It will be the largest exhibition of contemporary work ever held at Millbank.

"William Blake gets his own show from 9 November 2000 - 11 February 2001, which should be a blockbuster, given that just about everyone has heard or learned his verse whether or not they have seen his spectacular paintings, prints and watercolors. Five hundred works will be drawn from public and private collections throughout the world for the first major exhibition of this unique, innovative Romantic British artist and poet’s work; "To see the world in a grain of sand…" It promises to be one of the highlights on the global art calendar.

Another current show is "Romantic Landscape: The Norwich School of Painters, 1803-1833," which offers a close-up view of the East Anglian "Norwich School" artists, lent by the Norwich Castle Museum. Together with works by Turner and Constable, the School’s distinctive view of landscape is captured in the paintings of lesser-known artists like John Sell Cotman and John Crome. This is a rare opportunity to view this collection, as many paintings have never left the castle or the city.

The museum’s portico and river frontage and first eight galleries were designed by Sidney J. R. Smith, an architect chosen by Sir Henry Tate, a sugar magnate, and subsequent extensions in 1910 and 1926 were funded by Sir Joseph Duveen and Lord Duveen respectively, to house paintings and drawings by Turner and modern foreign art. In 1937, Lord Duveen gave the central sculpture galleries that were designed by Romaine Walker and Jenkins in collboration with John Russell Pope, the architect who would soon design the National Gallery of Art building in Washington, DC.

In 1979, an extension financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (See The City Review article on the Gulbenkian exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum in 2000), was the first of the Tate buildings to receive substantial government funding and was designed by Llewelyn-Davies, Weeks, Forestier & Bor to provide new gallery space for 20th Century art, temporary exhibitions and new conservation studios.

In 1980, Trewyn Studio in St. Ives, the former home of Dame Barbara Hepworth, was presented to the nation by her family and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is now maintained and administered by the Trustees of the Tate Gallery and in tandem with Tate St. Ives, which opened in 1993 to designs by Eldred Evans and David Shalev and was built by the Cornwall County Council for exhibitions of the work of artists associated with St. Ives.

The Clore Gallery for the Turner Collection opened in 1987 and was designed by James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates who also designed the conversion to galleries of Tate Liverpool, which opened in 1988 in part of the Albert dock complex of warehouses designed by Jessie Hartley in the 1840s.

Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. will publish 20 new books in 2000 that includes catalogues from both Tate Britain and Tate Modern.

Click here to go to Amazon.com’s listing of 129 Tate publications, or contact Daniel Scott at Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd. (Tel: 0171 887 8872 Fax: 1071 887 8878 Email; daniel.scott@tate.org.uk).

Click here to visit the Tate Britain website (http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/displays/default.htm)

"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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