What makes one of England’s most visited attractions so attractive.
Tate Modern isn’t your everyday museum. With all its entertaining offerings and innovative projects, it may as well be a theme park. Boasting a magnificent collection of modern to contemporary art from all around the world, Tate Modern is as much a massive art exhibition as it is an archeological study of 21st century society. But beyond the artworks that it showcases, its operation is grounded on a philosophy of inclusivity. Regardless of your artistic or socioeconomic background, this place greets everyone with the same degree of friendliness. Here are five ways that make Tate Modern a one-of-a-kind museum experience that you won’t want to miss.
1. Tate Modern’s architecture is beautiful — in a way.
The building which is now currently the Tate Modern Museum used to be a power station. The sheer size and space of the interior, accentuated by the unfurnished bareness of it all, is how architects Herzog & De Meuron demonstrate the height of their imagination. Although serving very different purposes, the current museum wholeheartedly absorbs the empty space left by the old power station. The names of the exhibition rooms choose to retain their history: the main hall, tall enough for seven of London’s double-deckers is called Turbine Hall, and the underground rooms are fondly referred to as the Tanks.
2. Tate Modern engages you in all the right ways.
Most museums have an audio guide these days, whether that be an original device or an app you download on your phone. Tate Modern has an actual, in-person guide that also happens to be free. Daily tour schedules are displayed in notices all over the museum, and the meeting point is by the entrance of the second-floor free exhibition rooms, to the side of Turbine Hall. The guides are all trained in art and know what they’re talking about. They don’t only show you around the maze of exhibitions, but personally cherry-pick their favorites and delve deep into the artistic movements and philosophies behind the scenes.
Tate Modern Lates are also popular among Londoners. These are events that happen on an irregular basis (usually on weekends) where the museum invites everyone to enjoy DJs, talks, and workshops. Happening in the very Turbine Hall, it’s a night that brings together Londoners from all backgrounds and unites them for a few hours under a shared appreciation for the artistic spirit – and they’re free. See upcoming Lates here.
In the past, Tate Modern has also hosted small, enclosed workshops where participants get together and discuss their responses to a few selected artworks, regardless of their artistic expertise. These workshops, facilitated by staff with both artistic and educational credentials, have shown significant positive effects on the participants’ mental health in one study. Such events hosted by Tate, big or small, foster a sense of belonging within a city where it’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed.
3. Tate Modern knows how to do business.
As an innovative institution that strives to integrate the art world into the modern urban setting, Tate Modern doesn’t shy away from rather — corporate — endeavors. In February 2022 alone, it held temporary exhibitions commissioned by two of the biggest Asian business giants, Hyundai and Uniqlo. Hyundai’s commission, an installation by artist Anicka Yi, displays gigantic floating robots that seem halfway between sea creature and machine, sketching the future trajectory of technology. Uniqlo boasts three free interactive workshops for children called Tate Play.
Tate Modern is a franchise in and of itself. In the main building alone, there are two gift shops, both quite spacey and organized by souvenir type. On top of your usual postcards and canvas prints, there are gifts to suit any taste or whim, books ranging from art history to philosophy to self-help, and collections designed in partnership with local social justice organizations. The gift shops state boldly that all proceeds go into the museum’s funds.
Finally, Tate Modern is not only an institution; it is an actively evolving brand, just like any other business. Wolff Olins, a consulting company that is responsible for Tate, designed its blurry, pixelated logo to represent its ever-shifting form and function as a museum. In a world where art suffers to be recognized and appreciated, it seems like Tate Modern has figured it all out, with its place on the UK’s top three tourist attractions.
4. Tate Modern makes you feel welcomed and inspired, no matter who you are.
Tate Modern is proud of lacking boundaries. In the same room, you can find the big Western figures Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, sandwiching an equally big and glorious artwork by the Sudanese artist, Ibrahim El-Salahi. In many museums, people from different regions — especially non-Western artists — are cordoned off into another room, as if we need to take out a different set of eyes to observe them. But contemporary art calls for contemporary modes of thinking, and Tate Modern isn’t shy about going its own way.
In the free tour that I joined on a busy Saturday, my tour guide, Lucy, chose the artworks she took us to based on her own likes and dislikes. “Some things you’re going to like or understand better than others. And that’s completely fine,” she reassured us before we began. At each painting, she invited us into her own thoughts and encouraged us to activate our own imagination.
“This is one of my favorites,” she announced proudly when we arrived at the “Seated Woman with Small Dog,” a painting by Maraud Guevara. “It’s something about her expression. It’s the way her clothes is falling off her shoulder. It’s the open door — what’s beyond it? It’s the view out the window. What’s happening? Why is she covering the dog’s face?” The tour, of course, glosses over a lot of art history and the biographies of these artists, but in the end, asks us intriguing questions more than it answers any.
5. Tate Modern democratizes art.
I’ve saved the best for last. Admission to the permanent collections, as well as some temporary ones at Tate Modern, is free to all visitors. You do have to book tickets, but if you decide to go on the day of your visit, there’s a good chance there are still a lot of spots left.
Tate Modern, along with its three sister museums, are committed to removing the various social barriers to art. For centuries, the Western art world has been barred to women, non-whites, and the lower and middle classes, and today is a time when museums across the West are trying to figure out how to dissolve these walls once and for all. Beyond its individual artworks, Tate Modern is a case study of diversity and inclusion all on its own. Even its architecture itself, which used to be a power plant run by the working class, speaks to Tate Modern’s democratizing spirit.
Here’s finally an art museum I can recommend to everyone, and that includes you, who fears “not understanding” modern art! Put your sociologist hat on and come visit; you will be surprised by the joy and inspiration you will take home.