The posters dotting the corridors and platforms of London tube stations proclaim that changes are afoot at Tate Modern. The new Switch House opens on 17 June. It’ll increase the exhibition space, allow for less traditional works – think installations, performance pieces and interactive works – to be shown and provide the room needed for education activities.
I know I ought to be excited about it. A landmark building to further establish London as the international centre of contemporary art. A place that’ll appeal to all age groups. Art will be made even more accessible. There’ll be more space for people to experience art in all its forms. And yet…
I was lucky to catch the Alexander Calder exhibition at Tate Modern earlier this year at one of its quiet moments. Previous exhibitions there have been too busy to look at the art and reflect on it and it can be irritating to have people walk in front of you or ask you to move so they can take photos. (It’s the one exhibition space I know of where the no-photography policy is observed, consistently, in the breach, while staff stand by.)
I’m aware that these views are wildly twentieth-century, but should people who want to see an exhibition, rather than attend it, find that so hard to do? Is there something about modern and contemporary art that means being there is more important than seeing what’s there?
Last summer, I spent an afternoon with a friend at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. There were a few other people in most of the galleries; in some, we were by ourselves. I remember the works at MIA very clearly and they made a great impression. My friend commented that he’d thought this was what all galleries were like – until he came to London.