‘A Cultural Cathedral’: the New Tate Modern

‘A building that was once London’s beating heart is now its cultural cathedral.’ Lord Browne, Chairman, Tate

SwitchHouseExterior© Iwan Baan

Switch House Exterior © Iwan Baan

The new Tate Modern, which opens to the public today, looks set to receive even more than its five million annual visitors. At a press launch earlier this week, Lord Browne, Chairman of the Tate, Tate Director Nicholas Serota, new Tate Modern Director Frances Morris, Cultural Secretary of State John Whittingdale and Sadiq Khan, London’s new culturally switched on Mayor helped to generate an atmosphere of excitement. The Press and the art world alike appeared to be suitably impressed by the new 10-storey building and its contents.Today, the public will give their verdict on a building that has increased the size of the world’s most popular contemporary art museum by 60%.

SwitchHouseExteriorDetail© Iwan Baan

Switch House Exterior Detail © Iwan Baan

The new building, the Switch House, was designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron who also designed the conversion of the former power station which became the Tate Modern in 2000. The Switch House building sits alongside the Turbine hall above the concrete tanks that have been used in the past for live art and music from bands like Kraftwerk who played eight nights in 2013. There is a beautiful circular staircase leading from the tanks to the galleries above and a bridge connecting the ‘old’ Tate Modern galleries to the new.

SwitchHouseStaircase© Iwan Baan

Switch House Staircase © Iwan Baan

The brick façade of the Switch House looks utilitarian and quite plain but the building material is used in an interesting way to create a perforated brick screen which allows light to filter through in the day and through which the building glows at night. And it certainly doesn’t look like a simple addition or extension. As Jacques Herzog explained “an addition to an existing building is always very difficult, even problematic: some people will like the new part better, others will prefer the old part, some may say, the extension was not necessary; others are convinced of the opposite. We wanted to anticipate such controversial views. Our aim was to create a building conglomerate which appears as one thing, not as a phase one and a phase two.

Switch House includes new galleries, a restaurant, another member’s room and, almost as exciting as the new galleries, a rooftop terrace on the 10th floor which offers spectacular panoramic views of London.


The Switch House Cafe © James Payne

Viewfrom10thfloorSwitchHouse c Joanne Shurvell

View from 10th floor SwitchHouse © Joanne Shurvell

To coincide with the opening of the Switch House, the ‘old’ Tate Modern on the other side of the Turbine Hall has been rebranded as the Boiler House. The two floors featuring 800 works in the free collection displays have been brilliantly rehung and new acquisitions have been added. I spotted some of my favourites, including a room of large Gerhard Richter paintings and Claude Monet’s Waterlilies just outside the Mark Rothko room, along with gems like Portrait of a Young Woman by Meredith Frampton. And with this rehang, it was also good to hear that half of the solo displays in Tate Modern are now by women artists.

Tate Modern Rebrand, The Boiler House ©Joanne Shurvell

Tate Modern Rebrand, The Boiler House ©Joanne Shurvell

Some of the rehang has been extended across the Switch House although the new building focuses on installations and video. I liked the interactive nature of some of the works, including a sculptural piece by Hélio Oiticica featuring a sandy floor  which visitors can walk through to see cages of live parrots and ‘Capsules’ by Ricardo Basbaum, wire structures with mattresses where visitors can lie down.

Switch House, Ricardo Basbaum Capsules (NBP x me-you), 2000

Switch House, Ricardo BasbaumCapsules (NBP x me-you), 2000

From the opening on Friday 17 June, there’ll be live free performances running every day until 3 July. I plan to revisit for the performance at 17:00 on Saturday 18 June where 500 singers from community choirs across London will be performing. Tate Director Nicholas Serota describes the opening of the new Tate as a ‘landmark moment not only for the Tate but also for the UK as a whole. The opening signals a new era for modern and contemporary art in the UK.’ Hyperbole aside, all involved in creating the new Tate Modern deserve congratulations and high praise indeed.

SwitchHouseLouise BourgeoisCell (Eyes & Mirrors)1989-93

Switch House Louise Bourgeois Cell (Eyes & Mirrors)1989-93

Words: Joanne Shurvell

Photos: James Payne, Iwan Baan

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