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Published 10/05/2001 email E-MAIL print PRINT

Tate Modern, still puzzled by the mixed reception of its current blockbuster, Century City, is spinning hard on the permanent collection and its popularity with ‘ordinary citizens’. Sometimes Tate Britain benefits from the spin-off. Stanley Spencer’s ‘Double Nude Portrait: the Artist and his Second Wife’ now attracts numerous complaints in its new space at Tate Modern, while in more traditional spaces at Tate Britain it was largely passed by.

The success of Tate Modern has been to generate a revolution in gallery-going amongst tourists and locals alike, on account of the cathedral-like scale of the former Turbine Hall and the skilful manipulation of relatively limited gallery spaces. It is said that the building is not like a museum, and opinions vary from a generalised airport terminal likeness to a more specific comparison to Euston station off-peak. But the terminus scale is the key to all the positive and all the negative aspects. Attracting great numbers to feel at ease in the main hall, compressing them into the galleries has not worked through sheer force of numbers. Then there is the present thematic obsession in laying out the works. Some works just cannot tolerate the presence of others.

But do not be depressed. In Tate Britain, to see some of the greatest international masterpieces of early 20th century art you must still return to view Ben Nicholson’s late l930s White Reliefs (icons of modernism) or to experience the European fantasmagoria of Eduardo Paolozzi, who parodied technology and the electronic revolution before the artist beneficiaries in Tate Modern had even recognised the information explosion. Only at Tate Britain can the intellectual thrust of such European innovators be discovered. Well, Paolozzi did take parody too far for the straight-laced Tate Gallery with his l970s retrospective, and was never quite forgiven ever after. But given the choice of Stanley Spencer at Tate Britain this month and Century City’s confused largesse at Tate Modern the word is that the crowds are stopping off north of the Thames, where Spencer is at last being accorded the international level of esteem he was so long denied.

Skilful programming and canny promotion could still see Tate Britain succeed as a niche arts centre, and Tate Modern become too mindful of its terminal flow patterns. This will simply be emphasised by the imminent extensions in the Centenary development at Tate Britain which will at last increase gallery space by at least one-third.



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