The new extension to the Tate Modern opened this week. It’s a ten story brick structure called the Switch House, that towers over the original six story Tate Modern, now called the Boiler House. Naturally, I headed down there as soon as I could, to take a look before the shine wears off. Here’s what I found.
You get a good view of the new building – described as a ‘twisted pyramid’ – on the way in. It was designed by Herzog & de Meuron and features a perforated brick lattice.
The basement area, known as the Tanks, is given over to live art, film and video. The walls are of moulded concrete and a curved staircase leads up to the ground floor.
I saw quite a lot of the staircases on my visit, as the queues for the lifts were so long that I ended up walking up the stairs to the tenth floor viewing platform. Which was quite useful, as it gave me a good overview of the building.
It’s all very cool, calm and restrained – as you go up there is more moulded concrete and plenty of pale polished wood. But it’s not plain – there are vistas and textures around every corner and views from the windows out over London and the river.
I feel a bit guilty saying this about an art gallery, but actually the viewing platform is one of the best bits. It looks out on all four sides with plenty of space to circulate and has fabulous views.
On the floor below, the new restaurant (not yet open when I visited) also offers great views and more pale wood furniture.
But what about the art? At the moment there are collections on the first, second and third floors in which women artists are strongly represented. There is a whole room of Louise Bourgeois, including one of her iconic spiders, and this work, using garments that belonged to her mother and herself as a child.
There has been a lot of interest in Kader Attia’s model of the ancient Algerian city of Ghardaïa, made from couscous, shown in the Living Cities gallery. It does have a real fascination to it – especially when you imagine the process of boiling up the couscous and shaping the moulds.
The galleries are spacious and can afford to give plenty of space over to large works – like this one by Ana Lupas whose work is made from straw which has been encased in metal to preserve it.
The two buildings are linked together by a bridge over the Turbine Hall at fourth floor level, which offers a view down to the Turbine Hall where one of Ai Weiwei’s tree sculptures, made from parts of trees gathered from all over China, stands.
It’s remarkable how such an imposing work can appear so tiny from up above – more like like a new shoot than a great tree. But then, the Switch House is there to give us new perspectives on art, and it certainly looks like succeeding.