London’s Tate Modern Celebrates 10 Years of Surprise Success

The Tate Modern museum celebrates its tenth birthday this week having firmly won a place among the must-see attractions of London.

When Queen Elizabeth II opened it on May 12, 2000 in a gargantuan former power station on the banks of the River Thames, few would have predicted the museum would attract more than 45 million visitors in its first decade.

It has hosted 52 temporary exhibitions featuring the work of the biggest names in modern art, including Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo, Matisse, Picasso, Mark Rothko, Salvador Dali and Arshile Gorky.

Tate Modern filled a gap – before it opened London was the only major European city without a top-quality museum of modern art, perhaps because the British public was still suspicious of the genre.

Michael Craig Martin, a former Tate trustee and a conceptual artist, said people immediately took a liking to the openness of the enormous space.

“It’s hard not to remember just how much suspicion and unease there was about contemporary art before, whereas now it’s everywhere – it has become a part of the cultural life of the country in a way that was unimaginable 20 years ago, and the Tate has played a very big part in that,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“I don’t think anybody imagined it would be as successful as it was. But from the minute the doors opened, people liked the place. It feels welcoming.”

The former Bankside power station, which closed in 1981, is a striking building constructed of more than four million brown bricks punctuated by a brick tower.

Its soaring Turbine Hall allows pieces of art to be displayed which would struggle to fit in many other museums in the world, such as Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor’s expansive red steel and PVC installation, Marsyas, a hit with the public in 2002.

More recently Miroslaw Balka’s Big Black Box, where visitors were invited to walk ‘blind’ into total darkness, has attracted a lot of attention.

The Tate says the museum, whose main collections are free to visit, hosts five million visitors a year in a building which though vast was designed for just two million a year.

A new building will be added to provide additional gallery space at a cost of £215 million (US$318 million). It is expected to open in 2012.

Five days of special events are planned to mark the anniversary. A procession of 300 school pupils symbolising visitors from around the world will march through the surrounding London borough of Southwark on Wednesday.

And a suitably giant birthday cake will be cut for visitors to share.

Then from Friday to Sunday, the Turbine Hall will be the scene for a “festival of 70 international art collectives from Shanghai to Rio.”

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