Tate Modern launches rough, raw and ready Tanks
Atmospheric underground arenas seem tailor-made for performance and video work
By Javier Pes. Web only
Published online: 19 July 2012
The Tanks at Tate Modern, which open to the public on Wednesday 18 July, were launched on Monday night with a party that continued until past midnight, complete with film-premier-style spotlights sweeping the guests as they arrived in London's power station turned modern and contemporary art museum.
The acoustics of the East Tank (Commission) and the South Tank (Live), two of three underground spaces where the oil that fuelled the power station was once stored, are remarkable. The spaces act as sound boxes, amplifying the hubbub created by the guests who were excited to explore the atmospheric spaces. They now seem tailor made for performance and video art.
When Nick Serota, the director of the Tate, first visited the redundant oil tanks in the mid-1990s access was down a steep ladder, he recalls. He describes them in the programme notes as "primal". But guests at last night's launch party for what the Tate calls the world's first museum galleries dedicated to performance art took, instead, a less stressful step-free route to the bunker-like spaces. The guests were starry, including the musician Neil Tennant, theatre and film director Stephen Daldry, artists Anish Kapoor, Jeremy Deller, Dexter Dalwood, Michael Craig-Martin and Cornelia Parker among others.
The conversion of the Tanks retains the feel of bunkers, with brutalist concrete columns set at dramatic angles complementing the original industrial architecture. In places there is even a slight whiff of old oil.
While standing in line for a performance to begin in the South Tank of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's minimalist double-hander Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, 1982, Nicholas Logsdail, the Lisson Gallery's founder and director, told The Art Newspaper: "It's a wonderful brutal space redolent with meaning: a kind of past-future condition," adding that the conversion of the Tanks signals that "things are getting cracking here", a reference to the fact that it marks the opening phase of the museum's delayed Herzog and de Meuron-designed high-rise extension. (The Swiss architects originally converted the power station, and they remodelled the Tanks.) Two cranes are now in place behind Tate Modern and building work has begun on the £215m tower that was due to rise above the Tanks by 2012 before the recession hampered fundraising. The Tate's latest press release states that the new building will be completed by 2016 "at the latest".
The Turner prize nominee artist Dexter Dalwood also put Tate Modern's new spaces into a wider context: "The Tanks are a development and a vision of how a museum should be looking to the future as well as at the past. 'Important' is too strong a word as it depends how the space is utilised over the next decade and what the rest of the new extension provides."
The opening programme is sponsored by The Tanks Supporters Group. Called a festival, it consists of performance, film and video work (until 28 October) by more than 40 artists, including a new commission in the East Tank by the Korean-born, New York-based Sung Hwam Kim, which has been supported by Sotheby's.
Additional raw concrete galleries next to the Tanks, called the Transformer Galleries, feature some of the Tate's recent video and film acquisitions, including Lisa Rhodes's Light Music, 1975, and Suzanne Lacy's Crystal Quilt, 1987. The spaces are named after a Tate trustee, John Studzinski, the British-based, US-born financier who made an early donation of £5m to the Tate to help fund Tate Modern's expansion. Serota made a point of praising the support of the Tate's numerous foreign-born donors, which include the Swiss philanthropist Maja Hoffmann, not least those who are resident in the UK but not "domiciled" for tax purposes, a privileged status that has been criticised by politicians and in the press.
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