New Tate Modern


The statement extension to Tate Modern by Herzog & de Meuron opens to the public next month and we look at what it will offer.


FX

Words by Stephen Hitchins

At the other extreme to Alejandro Aravena, this year's relatively unknown winner of the Pritzker Prize, there is Herzog & de Meuron. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron won the prize in 2001. Along with all their nine partners: Christine Binswanger, Robert Hösl, Ascan Mergenthaler, Stefan Marbach, Esther Zumsteg, Andreas Fries, Vladimir Pajkic, Jason Frantzen and Wim Walschap, the team now has 40 associates and 420 staff based in Basel and four other offices.

In the past year, the firm has completed 10 major projects including the Roche Building 1, at 41 storeys the tallest building in Switzerland; an office building for Novartis in Basel; the new headquarters for BBVA on the periphery of Madrid; residential buildings on a former industrial site at Zellwegerpark Uster, and Helsinki Dreispitz in Münchenstein; the new stadium in Bordeaux; a boutique in Tokyo for Prada's Miu Miu Aoyama brand, and the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford.

Graphic designer Peter Saville’s representation of the New Tate Modern
Graphic designer Peter Saville's representation of the New Tate Modern

The scale and variety of the practice's work will not let up in 2016. There are residential projects in Beirut and New York; the restoration and reinvention of the Park Avenue Armory in New York as a visual and performing arts space; the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, a mixed-use complex that includes a new philharmonic hall, and the transformation of the Hong Kong Central Police Station Compound into an arts and leisure complex. We can also look forward to the new HQ and global R&D centre for Astra Zeneca; the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem; a new development for the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles in Paris; the new Chelsea FC stadium, and the New North Zealand Hospital in Denmark, among the high-profile projects that will follow.

Graphic designer Peter Saville’s representation of the New Tate Modern
Graphic designer Peter Saville's representation of the New Tate Modern

But the turning point in the firm's history and its highest-profile museum project to date was the conversion of Bankside power station into Tate Modern, completed in 2000. In 2005, Herzog & de Meuron was commissioned to develop a scheme for the expansion of the gallery and its surrounding areas, a project that opens next month. The Tanks, the first phase in which three circular industrial chambers more than 30m across and 7m high, dedicated to live art, performance and installation, opened in 2012. At that point, the avant garde entered the mainstream; alternative art that has remained for so long at the margins became central to the public's experience of art, because that is what it is, an experience, and one that has been almost universally denied them before.

Herzog & de Meuron’s staircase and terrace in the new building
Herzog & de Meuron's staircase and terrace in the new building

The new building is on top of The Tanks. In the words of Tate Modern's PR, the height 'responds' to the chimney of the original building, by Giles Gilbert Scott. It will increase the size of the museum by 60 per cent, but will nevertheless be overshadowed by its next door neighbour, NEO Bankside. Tate director Sir Nicolas Serota may have reinvented the museum, but he did not welcome the giant, gleaming glass towers that have gone up just 50m from his extension, calling the original proposals 'private greed' on the part of the developers. The then London Mayor Ken Livingstone thought that having another tower on the site 'helps to balance it'.

Seen through the special vocabulary of headline writers and a haze of misquotes, the press loved it of course, calling it 'The High-Rise Battle of Bankside', it was 'Livingstone Versus Serota', 'like putting a tower block in the British Museum', a luxury enclave for the international rich up against culture. No surprise though, the developers won.

Herzog & de Meuron’s staircase and terrace in the new building
Herzog & de Meuron's staircase and terrace in the new building

That the Tate commission was a turning point for Herzog & de Meuron can be seen in its subsequent project record with museums and galleries forming a significant part of the firm's overall output. Most recently, its competition-winning designs for the new Vancouver Art Gallery were unveiled last September, showing a series of wooden-clad boxes stacked one on top of the other. Its extensions and renovations to the Musée Unterlinden in Colmar that more than doubled the floor area were opened in January. The firm's M+ museum of visual culture in Hong Kong, located on the waterfront in West Kowloon, is due to open in 2018 where Lars Niitve, Tate Modern's first director, is now in charge.

The opening of the New Tate Modern is boldly announced on the complex
The opening of the New Tate Modern is boldly announced on the complex

The extraordinary growth in the audience for contemporary art and the profound way audiences interact with a museum is down to Tate Modern. But it comes at a price. The new extension once cost £45m. By the time it is finished it will have cost £260m. Originally intended for completion in time for the 2012 London Olympics, it opens on 17th June.

Reassuringly familiar and abidingly strange, we now have a 10-storey piece of origami to experience, an asymmetric pyramidal medieval fortress-cum-intergalactic spaceship of a building to enjoy, raw yet refined with a lightfiltering, perforated-brick, lattice skin to boot.

Tate Modern displays work by African artist Meschac Gaba
Tate Modern displays work by African artist Meschac Gaba

The use of brick harmonises with the original but makes it very different to its neighbours and the surrounding area. More in keeping would have been an earlier proposal that received planning permission, a Mad Max spiralling glass ziggurat. That design was substantially reconsidered once it was decided to realise the full potential of the three oil tanks beneath the building. An interim proposal that had concrete facades was rejected by the client. The brick also signals something else. The roughness of it all inside and out is quite unlike the white cube galleries of the rest of the place, and far more like the places where art is created in derelict buildings and old warehouses, places found far away from the extreme commercialisation of art and the press obsession with the price of Our Tracey's or Damien's latest offering.

The same press that at the start of the Tate Bankside project mocked the whole idea as some backward-looking, heritage-obsessed scheme when a new building would have sparked excitement, it saw as necessary to match the new millennium. It quickly changed its tune. Serota would later say about Bankside stage 2 that The Tanks would provide 'a new instrument in the orchestra that is Tate Modern'.

The original building mixed the raw with the refined in a reuse of redundant industrial space. The new addition will retain some of the character of its rough-edged forerunner. The first building having been reinvented, the success of Tate Modern required it to be renewed again with different kinds of public spaces to meet the ever-changing needs of art. The apparently idiosyncratic form of the building is a result of the land parcel available and the need to open up spaces in a variety of ways that make walking through the new building an experience in itself.

The work Behold, by Sheela Gowda, displayed here at the Van Abbe Museum
The work Behold, by Sheela Gowda, displayed here at the Van Abbe Museum

Connections from floor to floor vary, there are ramps and spiral stairs and lifts, and stairways that become locations in themselves, places to meet, hang-outs. There is a bridge connecting the original building and the extension across the Turbine Hall that will now be centre-stage, set between the Boiler House and the Switch House. The whole complex will be redefined to meet, in the words of the director Chris Dercon, 'the need of visitors not to step out of their life, but to get closer to it'. It has to be more than simply a grand architectural gesture, an eccentric addition to the London skyline topped off by a 150-seat restaurant.

When it opened Tate Modern hung its collection non-chronologically to hide its deficiencies. At the same time, the original Tate was seen by some critics as having ceased to make a meaningful contribution to ancestral British art until the much-vilified Penelope Curtis rehung the whole place, something even the Daily Mail called 'spectacular'.

The whole notion of modern art and Tate Modern in particular produces fierce hatred and passionate love in equal measure.

Once contemporary art came to be seen as comparable to advertising, a one-line conceptual masterstroke of an idea, it reflected the times we live in. The information age demands everything be decoded, absorbed, and shared instantaneously, ideas that address the speed and distraction of contemporary life, ideas as entertainment. The reductive aesthetics of pop art and minimalism have been around for more than half a century, yet the internet age requires an even greater fusion of art and advertising; big, simple statements, with added wit if at all possible.

From Tate Modern, Philip Rothko’s Seagram Murals
From Tate Modern, Philip Rothko's Seagram Murals

The Tate Modern extension will be home to what the late art critic Brian Sewell called 'all that crap', the 'irrelevancies' of dance, theatre, cinema and video. The thin skin of the contemporary clings to art history just as new interior decoration graces an old building before itself being tossed aside in favour of something new. Most of what the Victorians collected is today consigned to vast storerooms as so much junk. The contemporary is always making claims to immortality that cannot be met. Historians translate things from earlier eras to make them comprehensible in the present. If you display the recent past then you have to do the reverse; make the familiar unfamiliar, setting it apart, revealing its difference from what we are familiar with. It is not easy.

This is not just an extension. The new building will be the most important new cultural building in the UK this year, and quite possibly this decade. Opening a building like this is not just about the here and now, it is primarily about the future. It belongs to future generations, and thus it is only appropriate that a special preview day will be given over to 5,000 schoolchildren the day before the galleries open to the general public. Serota has said: 'Tate should be making differences to people's lives by offering the experience of art to all. It is vitally important that every child in the UK should see the art of the past and the art of our own time, wherever they are.' Of the record 7.9 million visitors to Tate galleries in 2014/15 more than 3.5 million were under the age of 35.

The whole gallery will get a complete rehang. It is the responsibility of Frances Morris, as unknown to most people as Alejandro Aravena. Predecessors Lars Nittve, Vincente Todolí, and Chris Dercon, all tried to establish themselves as directors of Tate Modern. But they all worked in, and failed to escape from, the shadow of Serota.

No one talks about them any more; there's no one so thoroughly forgotten as the newly departed. Morris, on the other hand, has already left her intellectual signature on the place, having been responsible for the opening exhibition of Louise Bourgeois in 2000, and for the gallery's abandonment of chronological display. In 2016 a major exhibition of the work of Bourgeois will again lead the way, and the lack of historical context is here to stay.

Bourgeois is the first artist to be presented in a new gallery devoted to 'Artist Rooms' that will host exhibitions from the collection of 1,600 works assembled by Anthony d'Offay and donated in 2008. Women may well be in the frame at last. Morris joins two other women who now lead major museums in Europe -- Beatrix Ruf at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and Sabine Haas at the Kunsthistorishes Museum, Vienna. But, while women students across the world dominate art and design courses and overwhelm courses in art history, glass ceilings are still there to be smashed.

Tate's policy of acquisitions, loans and disposals -- 'promoting public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art' -- on the one hand, and to 'increase public access to the collection and reach new audiences' on the other, with contributions to distinctive exhibitions at home and abroad, and 'to dispose of an item, whether by gift, exchange, sale or destruction (in the case of an item too badly damaged or deteriorated to be of any use for the purposes of the Collection or for reasons of health and safety)' while recognising that 'in many cases this will be achieved by seeking to retain a disposed work in the public domain', are all the responsibility of the Trustees.

It is an unenviable task that calls for strong characters prepared to shoulder the criticism. Inevitably the director, Nicholas Serota, has in particular faced criticism for some of the choices, not least for the buying of works from Tate's own trustees -- Chris Ofili, Anish Kapoor, and Julian Opie, and that's just for starters.

When he took over the Tate could only display around 10 per cent of its collection; the contemporary collection was insular and stagnating. Territorial expansion means that today, with four sites, and a more generous attitude towards loans, the collection that embraces all media -- from painting, drawing, sculpture and prints to photography, video and film, installation and performance -- is far more accessible.

French choreographer Boris Charmatz brought dance to Tate Modern with Flip Book in 2012
French choreographer Boris Charmatz brought dance to Tate Modern with Flip Book in 2012

For all the gaps in its collection Tate makes as good a fist of doing this than anywhere else.

The vision for the new building seeks nothing less than 'to redefine the museum for the 21st century, placing artists and their art at its centre while fully integrating the display, learning and social functions of the museum, and strengthening links between the museum, its community and the City'. Reflecting Tate's commitment to increasing public knowledge and understanding of art, learning will be at the heart of the New Tate. Apart from the sheer size of the collection, the number of visitors requires this. From two million to more than five at Tate Modern in 15 years, the success has put pressure on existing facilities and unsustainable programmes. The changing nature of works of art also requires different kinds of spaces.

The intention is also meant to make a visit less congested and the environment more welcoming. Plus, it will be the next big tourist attraction for art's pilgrims seeking an epiphany through experiencing art in a new context. With only a quarter of Tate's costs covered by the public purse this is essential.

Things change. Our visual culture has been transformed in this century, and that in no small measure is down to the Tate reflecting what artists do and leading the audience to it. New media, new ways of doing art, new theories and new institutions have arisen that need a home; Tate Modern will now be one, because this is where the presentation of contemporary art -- even Contemporary Art -- begins.





Working on something exciting? Submit your project to Design Curial.

Submit project to DesignCurial