Modern Maturity

From YBA to ATM, a New London Art Scene

But back to the Tate Modern. If it isn't altogether great, it's greatly successful. In the first six months, 3 million visitors have passed through its ludicrously large Turbine Hall entryway. Paradoxically, the galleries upstairs feel cramped. Bottlenecks occur, walls are too thick, and some art feels squeezed in. The first show, drawn entirely from the museum's collection, is, well, problematic. Installed nonchronologically according to themes, it includes insipid pairings like Claude Monet and Richard Long as well as didactically titled rooms like "The Grid" and "Structure and Form." On the other hand, many galleries work perfectly. Among them, the wondrous haiku formed by a sweet painting of a sitting room by Frank Auerbach next to a sunlit bedroom by Edouard Vuillard next to an interior by Danish little master Vilhelm Hammershøi. Elsewhere, maybe my favorite Picasso, the exquisite Weeping Woman from 1937, faces an outrageously sinuous reclining-nude sculpture by Henry Moore. Best of all, and as confrontational in its presence as it is subversive in its placement, after numerous rooms of female nudes by male painters, there's Sam Taylor-Woods's mesmerizing Brontosaurus, a video of a naked man dancing.

But the Tate Modern is about much more than the inaugural show. The product of a surging economy, this museum is a gigantic vote of confidence in contemporary art. That and a tremendous thank you to the likes of Hirst, Whiteread, Saatchi, Goldsmiths' great guru-painter Michael Craig-Martin, Frieze magazine, a handful of art dealers, and the YBAs of the '90s. Essentially, the Tate Modern is saying to art communities everywhere, "We want to be your museum."

The termite queen on the Thames is a gigantic vote of confidence in contemporary art.
photo: Courtesy Tate Modern
The termite queen on the Thames is a gigantic vote of confidence in contemporary art.

It made me think about the Guggenheim's proposed Frank Gehry behemoth on the East River. It will be big and beautiful. It will have nothing to do with us or art. It is a monument to the Guggenheim and its director. To get an idea of how thrilling and galvanizing the Tate Modern is, imagine the excitement if our own Museum of Modern Art—rather than rebuilding its 53rd Street headquarters—were to renovate one of those great industrial buildings in the West Forties or Fifties and erect a footbridge across the Hudson leading directly to its entrance. If they built that, we would cum.

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