Viewed from the south side of Britain’s River Thames, the Switch House is visually arresting, towering above the long brick mass of the Tate Modern’s original space, which houses the 155-meter-long Turbine Hall and the Boiler House. It’s dressed to match its predecessor with a decorative checkerwork of bricks, described by its architects, Herzog & de Meuron, as “knitwear.” At night, light peeks out through the perforations in the brick design, and by day it streams through the lattice into the building’s polished concrete interiors.
The £260 million ziggurat is a free-access public space realized in a time of austerity—a momentous feat, and one that goes against the current political climate. Not only are there substantial areas dedicated to education, such as the spacious Tate Exchange on Level 5, but there are a multitude of places to simply dawdle. Its many pathways and viaducts encourage visitors to wander up the curving staircases, peruse the vaulted hallways, or enjoy the unexpected views over London’s jagged terrain.
Perhaps most significant of all is the rehang of Tate Modern’s galleries. This has been conceived as an act of curatorial revisionism that is crucial to any politically relevant and global-facing institution. It’s clear that Tate has thought critically and philosophically about the position it espouses through its displays.
Tate Modern director Francis Morris acknowledges that when Tate Modern first opened its doors in 2000, the scope of its collection was considerably limited, with holdings dominated by work from male and Western artists. Women artists constituted just 17 percent of the collection. Over the past 15 years, the museum has been aggressively expanding and diversifying its acquisitions. In 2009, for example, the first-ever Curator of Photography was appointed, and the museum’s holdings have widened to include alternative strands of photography, including works by
The aim of the current rehang, Morris says, is to show “more photography, performance, and film… and more work by women.” There are seven new exhibitions across the Switch House and the Boiler House, each drawing on the museum’s vast storehouse of art and organized according to a different rubric. “Living Cities” in the new Switch House, for example, displays artworks that grapple with and respond to the urban environment and issues of migration, protest, and power. “Between Object and Architecture,” which fills another long, lofty gallery in the Switch House, presents sculpture that has departed from the plinth.