Modern art finds its spiritual home at Tate Modern.
Ok, so we’re not exactly shy in bragging about London, but sometimes, things are simply worth the hype. Take Tate Modern, for example: the city’s leading art spot is also the most popular modern art gallery in the world. Which, surely, is something to shout about. Part of the Tate gallery family, which also includes Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St Ives, Tate Modern sits on a prime spot in Bankside, holds a repository of important and influential modern art, and won’t cost you a penny to enter. Let’s take a peek inside! (See also: all the best London art exhibitions in 2019.)
Tate Modern overview
Housed inside the imposing shell of the old Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern is a relatively young art gallery. After a £134 million conversion, Tate Modern threw open its doors in 2000, and now generates a whole different kind of electricity. The gallery is London’s second most-visited attraction, behind the venerable British Museum, pulling in a whopping 5.5 million visitors annually – which is roughly equal to the population of Finland.
Unlike Tate Britain, which houses a permanent collection of historic British art, Tate Modern is all about the here and now. Everything you’ll find within the gallery is modern art, dating only as far back as 1900. Collections are split between the Boiler House (currently renamed the Natalie Bell Building for the year), the central Turbine Hall, and the Blavatnik Building (formerly known as the Switch House).
The oldest works are found in the Boiler House, whilst the Blavatnik Building – which only opened in 2016 – hosts art from 1960 onwards. Turbine Hall, which sits at the heart of Tate Modern, serves as the grand entrance and installation space for major art projects. Basically, wherever you turn in this place, you’re going to get a proper eyeful of art.
Things to see at Tate Modern
If you’re approaching Tate Modern from the river (which you most likely are), the first thing you’ll want to do is head downstairs. The cavernous room which unfolds before you is known as Turbine Hall, the centrepiece of Tate Modern. Once the housing for electricity generators, this five-storey tall space is now home to large-scale, specially commissioned art projects. Amongst the incredible installations to grace Turbine Hall include Carsten Höller’s giant slides, Ai Weiwei’s sea of porcelain sunflower seeds, and Olafur Eliasson’s giant setting sun.
In more recent years, Turbine Hall has hosted a joyful set of swings from art collective Superflex, and is currently home to Tania Bruguera’s 10,148,451 – a community-driven response to the global migration crisis, which also features a heat-sensitive floor and a room designed to make you cry. The projects run from October to March, so keep your eyes peeled for a new Turbine Hall installation arriving later this year.
Also on the ground floor, and just off to the side of Turbine Hall, is a space known as The Tanks. Three huge oil tanks have now been repurposed to display installation, video, and performance art, and the results tend to be a little more… out there than the rest of Tate Modern’s offerings. Witness ‘Coloured Sculpture’ (above), which arrived over the summer, and was very accurately described as a “floating torture puppet” by one member of the Secret London team.
Away from the subterranean tanks, you’ll find some lighter fare on the upper levels. All the way up, in fact. Sitting on the tenth floor of the Blavatnik Building is the grandly titled Tate Modern Viewing Platform – which is exactly what it sounds like. Open air, and offering 360 degree views across the city, the viewing platform is a neat way to see city skyline views without paying a penny.
Current and upcoming Tate Modern exhibitions
Given its reputation as a world-leading art gallery, there are new and exciting art exhibitions arriving at Tate Modern throughout the year. Here are the highlights:
Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory, until May 6th: Using vibrant and unconventional colours, Bonnard captured stolen moments with startling realism. It’s the first major show of Bonnard’s work in 20 years, so catch it whilst it’s in town. Tickets are available here.
Franz West, February 20th – June 2nd: Speaking of unconventional artists, the Tate are set to unveil a major Franz West retrospective very shortly. Defying the received wisdom that art is to be seen and not touched, you’ll be able to handle papier-mâché objects and wander amongst West’s playfully philosophical objects. Find tickets here.
Natalia Goncharova, June 6th – September 8th: Unless you’ve spent a lot of time in Russia, you probably won’t have seen many of Natalia Goncharova’s works before. Tate Modern is curating a show full of paintings that have never been seen outside of Russia, making their retrospective of this avant-garde artist a unique show. Tickets can be found here.
Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, July 11th – January 5th, 2020: Eliasson has a strong connection to Tate Modern, what with his Turbine Hall installation The Weather Project, and the recent display of polar ice outside the gallery’s front door. This summer, he returns for a major survey of his career, which will include a stunning room full of rainbows. Find out more here.
Nam June Paik: The Future Is Now, October 17th – February 9th, 2020: An artist who worked at the bleeding edge of technology, Paik’s visual artistry manifests itself in robots made from old TV screens, video works, and room-filling installations. It’ll mess with your melon whilst raising questions about our relationship to technology. More information here.
Steve McQueen, February 12th – May 10th, 2020: Still a little way off, but the landmark Tate Modern exhibition of 2020 already looks to be set. Though now better known as an Oscar winning-filmmaker, McQueen’s art career has been a pretty groundbreaking affair: this exhibition collates his immersive video installations, as well as premiering new work. More information here.
When to visit Tate Modern
As with most of London’s tourist attractions, there’s no bad time to visit Tate Modern. If you’re looking for large-scale art projects, a visit between October and March (the months in which Turbine Hall hosts installations) would be best. Otherwise, keep an eye on the upcoming exhibits to see what catches your fancy – sometimes, they’ll come with events of their own, including workshops, curator’s tours, and even themed lunches.
For a nice and different Tate Modern visit, head to the Tate Lates on the last Friday of every month. An enticing mix of art, music, workshops, films, and food, Tate Lates welcome emerging musicians, artists, and thinkers to deliver a thought-provoking evening out. They’re usually themed – February’s session focuses on women in the arts – so you can expect a new experience each time, and best of all, they’re still free to attend.
Restaurants, pubs, and bars near Tate Modern
You won’t have far to go to find a bite to eat: Tate Modern has an in-house restaurant, perched on Level 9 of the Blavatnik Building. Modern European cooking is complemented by British produce, and there’s a rather inviting wine list to peruse, too. As you’d expect, the views from this far up are pretty decent, which is always a lovely amuse-bouche.
Back on terra firma, a whole host of restaurants surround Tate Modern. A short walk away, you’ll find the mighty meaty offerings of Hawksmoor, the delicious Italian fare of O’Ver, ravishing ramen from Tonkotsu, and indulgent British cooking from Mark Hix at Hixter. An embarrassment of London Bridge restaurants lie a ten-minute walk away, along with a variety of chain restaurants scattered along the South Bank and Bankside.
We’ve also put together a nifty little list of restaurants near the Tate Modern, which you can sink your teeth into here. For a post-Tate drink, you can mosey along to the current ‘World’s Best Bar’ Dandelyan, which is set to transform into Lyaness in March. Alternatively, the best pubs and bars in London Bridge are close by; even closer is the Tate Modern Terrace Bar, best known for their craft beer Tap Takeovers on the last Thursday of each month.
Tate Modern visitor information
Fancy paying Tate Modern a visit? Here are all the visitor details you’ll need to know. 👇
Location: Bankside, SE1 9TG. See it on Google Maps.
Nearest stations: Southwark, London Bridge, and Blackfriars. You can also catch riverboat services to Bankside Pier, which is just outside Tate Modern.
Price: happily, Tate Modern is free to visit. Special exhibitions will command an entry fee, and prices vary – if you’re a member or a Tate Patron, you get free entry to these. Disabled visitors will pay a concessionary rate, whilst anyone between the ages of 16-25 can join the Tate Collective to get £5 tickets to exhibitions.
Opening times: 10am-6pm (Sun to Thu), 10am-10pm (Fri to Sat).
More information: available on their website.
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Featured image: @abdullahgarcia
Also published on Medium.