In October 2000 I spent a few days in London on my way to France and took the opportunity to visit the newly opened Tate Modern Gallery, Britain’s attempt at a Museum of Modern Art—first mooted as early as1938 yet still embarrassingly short of modern works. This building, converted from an immense defunct power station on the South Bank of the Thames, is really an unacknowledged example of what 30 years or so earlier had been called “arte povera” (or the introduction of “value” in an edifice of “fact”). It was scarcely welcoming, though curious, yes. And the same could be said of its aesthetics, unless, like the curatorial staff you were, as they seemed to be, in thrall to the Russian Productivists of the early 1920s or Walter Benjamin and Co.—uncaring about hanging a Monet en face with a huge wall of terrific mud-paintings by Richard Long (who should in my view have vetoed such a confrontation). The same could be said of other rooms, though Beuys, one of the few artists for whom the concrete floors and walls seemed an appropriate venue, did have a gallery to himself.

Several storeys of galleries, offices and public services had been built alongside the massive, largely untouched, 100 feet high turbine hall, which seems to have invited an oversize sculpture—and got one in the form of huge bronze spider—called “Maman” (Mother) by its designer the 89-year-old Louise Bourgeois who, of course, though living then in New York, was French and still unable, it would seem, to transcend her teenage trauma on finding her nurse was also her father’s mistress: “I transform hate into love” she said in an egregious interview at the time, though just how that works in most of her boring production is hard to say.

As for public facilities—for those who might want to rest their legs after toiling through the stairs and galleries (amidst warnings not to touch the works or the security guards!), there was a coffee bar with nowhere to sit.

I mentioned my experience to an old friend, Stephanie White of Calgary, who owns and edits her own architectural review On | Site and who said she had space left in her next issue for about a hundred words, should I wish to use it to publish a comment.

The reader will find this comment below, along with a photo taken by Brian Dyson of one end of the turbine hall that just catches the leg of the bronze spider—a casting of which is also to be found now outside the National Gallery of Canada in its effort to attract members of the public who attend horror movies.

Photo of the Tate Modern by Brian Dyson
Photo by Brian Dyson

Ever done time? Want to know what it feels like in a slammer? Tour the concrete halls of the new kunstbunker, while it's still tricked out with Disneyland gothic (courtesy of bourgeois spider woman). You can even drink coffee in the punishment cell—though no chairs for you. buster! You wanna sit? Sit on the floor! And remember, according to the curators, “distortions of the body express anguish, isolation and suffering.” So leave that to the pictures! But. hey! No contemplating that Monet! Walt Benjamin et al are watching you. And in case you think you are immortal, Charlie, take a peek at the contemporary vanitas images of Damien Hurst's split-open animals. But lay one finger on the warders and we call the cops!