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Nicholas Serota looks beyond Tate Modern

Tate director rules out overseas satellites to carry on serving a broad public at home

The Tate is one of the best-known museum brands in the world, but Nicholas Serota has firmly ruled out any Guggenheim- or Louvre-style Tates abroad, or a Pompidou-style pop-up, as long as he remains director of the institution. Speaking shortly before the opening of Tate Modern’s much-anticipated extension on 17 June, Serota spelled out a vision that is deeply internationalist but firmly rooted in the traditions of British public service. He also confirmed that, contrary to speculation that he might step down as director shortly after the opening, he was not planning “any imminent change”.

Serota, who turned 70 this year and has been in post for 28 years, said that he still has to raise the final £30m of the £260m cost of the new Tate Modern project, and that major expansions need “time to bed in”. He said: “When I go, the role itself will not change. The trustees are absolutely committed to the idea of eventually appointing someone with a curatorial background who will drive the public-service ethos of the institution rather than just run it.”

International partnerships Although other big institutions earn or are negotiating lucrative fees from branded projects abroad—the Pompidou receives around €1m a year for its pop-up space in Malaga, Spain, and the proposed Guggenheim Helsinki’s annual operations fee is €1m—Serota ruled this out as a source of funding or profile-raising.

He said that the Tate had been asked to establish galleries in other parts of the UK, including Norwich, Bristol and Edinburgh, and also “invited to make galleries abroad”, but that this is “not a path we want to take”. Serota said: “A gallery should be fundamentally rooted in its community—it should grow out of that community and reflect that community—and if you parachute in, I think it’s extremely difficult to achieve. You can make a visitor attraction, but it’s very, very difficult to create something that really grows out of the soil.” Asked if he would regard a Tate abroad as somehow colonialist, he said: “Personally, I would say that that kind of initiative would be time-limited—in the way that Hong Kong was time-limited.”

Instead, Serota favours partnerships with existing museums. “It gives our curators opportunities to work with experts in other regions, and gives the specialists an opportunity in London. It’s about an international dialogue rather than an international imposition,” he said.

International support High in the Tate’s priorities—with only weeks left to opening—is the £30m still needed to complete the funding of the £260m project. “Unwrapping the building provides an opportunity, and we need to take advantage of that in the run-up and period of opening,” Serota said. He confirmed that this task will become much more difficult as time passes. “So there’s a window, we have an opportunity and we have to take advantage of everything that opportunity offers.”

Tate Modern’s extension could not have been built without international support. Private donors and foundations have contributed the lion’s share of its cost. The public contribution has been £58m. Supporters include the Blavatnik Family Foundation (representing the billionaire businessman Len Blavatnik), the Luma Foundation (the pharmaceutical heiress Maja Hoffmann), the Greek shipping magnate George Economou and Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of media mogul Rupert. The size of their donations is confidential. Only three donations—£10m from the family foundation of the shipping and property magnate Eyal Ofer, £5m from the Wolfson Foundation and £5m from the investment banker John Studzinski—have been revealed.

Tate Modern's Herzog & de Meuron-designed new wing includes more space for visitors to unwind. Photo: © Iwan Baan

To support Tate Modern’s increased running costs, the UK’s chancellor, George Osborne (with whom Serota, a noted operator with governments of various hues, appears to share an warm relationship), has agreed an extra £6.8m a year from April this year. This is on top of its existing £30m grant-in-aid across the Tate’s four sites.

In New York in May, the Tate Americas Foundation held a dinner that raised $1.5m for works by artists from the Americas. More than 50 artists attended, along with a star-studded cast of international patrons, including Bruce Nauman, Brice Marden, Lynda Benglis, Mark Bradford, Glenn Ligon and Theaster Gates—proof of a pulling power unimaginable when Serota took over the original Tate at Millbank (now Tate Britain) in 1988.

Persuading patrons “We’ve been fortunate in persuading quite a number of rich people to support [the Tate’s] mission. It’s about encouraging people to recognise that it’s a privilege to be associated with an institution that serves a broad public. A work acquired for this institution will be seen by five million people a year; at a small private institution, it will be seen by, at the very most, 200,000, and very probably fewer,” he said.

Serota acknowledged that the Tate’s collection of Modern art from the first half of the 20th century does not match those in New York or Paris. Although the market makes it difficult to fill these gaps, the Tate has been increasingly determined not to repeat the error. With the creation of a number of acquisition committees (a process steered by Frances Morris, recently elevated to the directorship of Tate Modern), the post-1900 collection has doubled. Around 75% of works on show in the first installation of the new Tate Modern have been acquired since 2000. “[It] is an opportunity to show the richness of the collection with work from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, Asia Pacific and South Asia”, as well as the more traditional North American-European axis, Serota said.