Your new extension is not opening until next spring, so why this year’s relaunch?
Stephan Deuchar To wait until 2001 would have meant it would be an awkward year for Millbank’s identity, with the opening of Bankside. We are therefore launching the concept of Tate Britain ahead of full delivery of the redeveloped building.
This year Millbank is being devoted to thematic displays. Why did you go for this unusual approach?
We have devised a series of thematic galleries to show familiar works in a new light. We are not claiming any great profundity for the themes; they are simple ways of grouping works together that share subjects and ideas about life in Britain over time.
Originally we were going to have two zones, one up to the nineteenth century and the other for the twentieth century. But when we put this to the curatorial teams, they decided to go one stage further away from the traditional chronological hang.
The curators have very imaginatively shaken off any sense of convention about the way things are done and have enjoyed the challenge. Of course, you could argue that it takes the focus away from traditional art history, and that you don’t see the evolution of style or see artists in relation to their contemporaries. But it is a way of looking at art and Britain, and, after all, it is only for a year or so. We see it as a celebration, showing the collection in a very different perspective.
How was it hanging works of different centuries together?
Very difficult, because one’s normal aesthetic criteria do not apply. You are putting together images which you would not normally feel comfortable with. You are often asking visitors to focus on differences rather than similarities.
How will you be handling Turner and the Clore Gallery?
I find it artificial to isolate Turner from the rest of British art, and we shall occasionally introduce Turner works into the main galleries—“Norham Castle” is now hanging there. We are also going to have occasional non-Turner exhibitions in the Clore Gallery which might draw attention to a similar period, such as “Romantic Landscape” or perhaps contemporary artists responding to Turner.
There is to be a big Turner exhibition in Essen (Folkwang Museum) and Zurich (Kunsthaus) in 2001, to which we are lending heavily, so we will not be able to recast the Clore Gallery in a new way until the following year. We have got to make the Clore part and parcel of Tate Britain, rather than simply an annex. Turner’s prominence will increase.
With the opening of Bankside, there is a feeling that Tate Britain may be reducing its interest in contemporary art.
No. The “New British Art 2000” show (6 July-24 September) will be the largest exhibition of contemporary art ever held at the Tate, featuring twenty-one artists. It will be the first of a series of shows, to be held every three years, and this time the theme is “Intelligence”. Opening just after Bankside, it will be a powerful way of communicating that we are still deeply committed to contemporary art. We will also be continuing to hold the Turner Prize exhibitions at Millbank (October-January). The “Art now” displays will be liberated from their “box” at the back of the building and they will be introduced to a variety of locations. The display at the relaunch will be shown on the outside façade of the Tate, by Martin Creed.
What role has Nick Serota played in the redisplay of Tate Britain?
He has added a judicious touch on the tiller here and there. Nick is passionate about displays. He is playing a particularly important role in the display of Tateacquisitions from the 1990s, entitled “Collecting British Art”.
Looking ahead, special exhibitions have only been announced for 2000. What else is coming up?
There will be a show on William Blake (9 November-11 February 2001), the first major exhibition for more than twenty years. Although we haven’t yet publicised it, the one after that will be on Stanley Spencer. It will be the first show in the new Sainsbury Exhibition Galleries, in May 2001.
Spencer will be a full-scale overview and we are in negotiation for it to go on to two overseas venues. Patrick Wright, the cultural historian, is helping Tim Hyman curate the show. We are making a conscious effort to bring in a variety of outside curators for exhibitions, to work with in-house staff. New kinds of art history have not always had a prominent airing in the Tate in the past.