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. Pauls 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 Tates 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 Yorks
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 Tates
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 centurys
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 Turners expansive power has been unleashed
at the Tate for generations of museum-goers, it has been greatly
balanced by the Tates 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 Englands 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 worlds 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 Gehrys
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 Charless 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. Pauls 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 Britains most fantastic empire.
Museums, of course, are not the only evident
signs of the "new" London. Indeed, Fosters Millennium
Dome, across the Thames from Cesar Pellis 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
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&As 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 Britains "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 buildings ornate building now displays
Martin Creeds 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" 1980s and 1990s 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
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 exhibitions catalogue,
Stephen Deuchar, the director of the Tate, provided the following
"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 Britains agenda
is determindedly contemporary. As its title, and the name of this
book, tend to imply, its concern is with arts place in the
political and cultural entity that is Britain - and questions
about arts contributions to varying kinds of national identity
will certainly form an undercurrent to our programme of displays,
exhibitions and publications. In todays 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."
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 museums
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
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 Britains culturally diverse society are reflected in
the sculptor Mona Hartoums Middle Eastern background, R.B.Kitajs
Jewish heritage, and the legendary James McNeil Whistlers
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
In an innovative and thought-provoking series
of "themed"galleries, many of the Tate Gallerys
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.
Nearby is a stunning portrait of Henrys
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
Queens 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 Freuds
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
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 catalogues front cover.
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 Dantes 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 Britains 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 womans "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 Copleys
(1738-1815) "The Death of Major Pierson, 6 January, 1781,"
painted in 1783, portrays the young British Majors 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. Whistlers
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 Cicelys father, the
collector W.C. Alexander, and is perceptively described in the
catalogue by Elizabeth and Joseph Penell as "
of Velasquez, the decoration of Japan, welded in his own way
Cicely is a symbol of her familys social standing and success,
beautifully "packaged" by Whistler, who clearly understood
his clients desires.
"Carnation Lilly, Lilly Rose" 1885-6,
by John Singer Sargeant (1856-1925), offers a less formal portrait
of the illustrator Frederick Barnards 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 Sargeants
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 Georges (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. Martins School of Art in the
late 60s, and proclaimed themselves "living sculptures"
in 1970, thereby challenging traditional ideas about what art
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 Londons status as a modern and commercial
European capital. It also asserted Derains "modern"
"An Arch of Westminster Bridge,"
1750, by Andrew Scott, (1702-1772), is another painterly exercise
in "one-upmanship," designed to compete with Canalettos
"Views of Venice," and stimulated by the Venetian
painters arrival in London. Canaletto wins hands-down, but
it was a brave try by Scott, who , like many other artists, were
inspired by Canalettos 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 exhibitions 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,"
Henry Fuselis (1741-1825) "Titania
and Bottom" illustrates a scene from Shakespeares "A
Midsummers Nights Dream"- Titanias 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.
Fuselis 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 Shakespeares work. Fuselis
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,
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.
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 doctors
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 poets
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 Creeds "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.
The "Artists Abroad" section is a
fascinating journey around the globe, through Turners mythical
Venetian waterscapes, Paul Nashs haunting images of the
Second World War as an "official" war artist, and David
Hockneys 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 Turners Venice
and Hockneys 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: "
Britains program is not intended as an extended investigation
into the Britishness of British art. But there is a clear commitment
to considering the Tates collection in new ways
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 Tates best known British works are appearing
in Millbanks 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 Spencers 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
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."
In another section of this fine exhibition,
John Constables 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 Tates
own collection to give an in-depth view of this great and well-loved
British artists individualistic vision of the English landscape.
The remainder of the galleries display works
by artists as diverse as Nicholas Hilliard and Damien Hirst, Britains
own "enfant terrible" who might shock but never bore
the viewer, and Ben Nicholsons 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.
Also currently on view at the Tate is Mona
Hatoums one woman show, "The Entire World as a Foreign
Land," which has been specially created for Tate Britains
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. Hatoums 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
"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
"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 poets 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 Schools 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 museums 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,
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.