The Tate Modern art gallery is housed in an abandoned power station on London’s South Bank. Appropriately for a modern art gallery, says Mama rudely, it is a rather ugly abandoned power station.
Not everybody agrees with her about this though.
The excellent thing about the Tate Modern is that it is a bit of a walk to get there from Waterloo Station, which is where Mama starts out. Like the preschooler version of my Amazing Big Brother before me, I need to burn off a lot of energy before I can be expected to behave with any kind of decorum. So Mama considers the twenty minute ramble along the South Bank the perfect prelude to solemn attention to cultural artifacts. She rarely managed to reach the appropriate point of exhaustion with my Amazing Big Brother, but it doesn’t stop her trying the same tactic with me.
It also means that Mama feels better about the fact the she will be strapping me as securely as possible into the pushchair once we get to the gallery because one of the downsides of the Tate Modern is that it shares with the V&A the unfortunate habit of dotting sculptures well within toddler grasp throughout the gallery. Mama is particularly afraid that some of the installations consisting of seemingly random stuff, separated from the public only by a flimsy piece of string, will be rearranged by small enthusiastic hands. While she darkly suspects that no-one but the artist would notice, she doesn’t really want to find this out for sure. She is particularly adamant about this now that a less determined Mama has become something of an internet sensation for having a toddler similarly enthusiastic about the hands on opportunities in the gallery. And the Telegraph newspaper has launched a debate about whether nasty sticky children like me should be allowed out in public as a result.
The paintings and such make about as much sense to me as the exhibits in all the other museums and art galleries which Mama takes me to, which is to say, not much, but in the Tate Modern I am not alone in my lack of understanding. I can, nevertheless, get quite excited about some of the larger, brighter, splashier pictures, and if they are having a performance art session, as they were in the Turbine Gallery when I was there first, I will join in with enthusiasm. People wandering about almost indistinguishable from the little knots of punters in amongst them? Who occasionally start to do things in concert like walk, jog and finally run up and down the hall? Or chant? Bring it on. I will get underfeet chasing my (very small) football and Mama will assume that is perfectly ok. It is, in fact, what the artist intended to happen. She hopes.
Mama also enjoys the exhibits in a cheerful sort of what the heck spirit. She was particularly thrilled to once take part in a survey conducted on behalf of the Centre for Physic Research conducted by your actual mediums, telepaths and other psychic experts. She has no idea what this had to do with art, except that she half expects that the whole thing was some kind of pre-installation and she will be in a gallery one day and see herself on film, her delighted smile as she is questioned minutely on her philosophy and honesty expressing a profound something or other about something else in the exhibition notes. She suspects they may have edited out my disinterested but determined attempts to escape the pushchair half way though.
My Amazing Big Brother also has something of a mixed reaction to the exhibits. When we were last there, he very much enjoyed a film in which a woman flung paper letters randomly around in a variety of very scenic locations. Mama thinks this is because a) it was TV, and TV is definitely my Amazing Big Brother’s preferred medium, b) because it perfectly expressed his baffled feelings about trying to learn to read and write, and c) it resembled some of the more obscure Soviet cartoons my Amazing Big Brother and I are being brought up on.
On the other hand, he HATED the room filled with architectural prints. I know this because he said THIS IS VERY BORING at the top of his voice after a couple of minutes. Caught unawares, the attendant nodded heartily before being recalled to where he was. It’s nice to know one’s artistic sensibilities are shared.
Mama eventually went on the attack with questions. How did the artist feel when they made these wild splodges of red on a wall-covering canvas? (My Amazing Big Brother: happy. Mama: very very angry. They agreed to differ. Suspiciously). What is that made of? (A particular obsession at the time, and which resulted in long discussions about the precise manufacturing process of plastic vs wood. Mama is easily distracted and my Amazing Big Brother is not above exploiting this). Why did this artist get someone to take a series of photos of him throwing his clothes off a roof? (Not one clue between the two of them). What shape is that? (Much tilting of heads sideways and doubtful expressions all round). Which sculpture do you like best? (The one that looks indistinguishable from a tree. Mama wonders why she bothers).
Still, Mama reckons that one floor per visit is probably plenty of culture for everybody for one day. In good weather you can then let off steam by running around outside, where there is plenty of room and a van selling coffee, but there is a play area inside the Tate Modern itself too for those less clement days. We spent what Mama considered to be a surprising amount of time in it considering that it consists of a rather tame slide, which, Mama, for your information also makes noises, a small wendy house, with KNOBBLY BITS on the outside and MIRRORS inside Mama, and a large artificial… apple, but then she wasn’t the one who had had to exercise extreme restraint in the face of massive tactile temptation for the last hour or so. Mama also recommends the huge Turbine Gallery in damp weather. You can sit and eat your sandwiches on the giant sized steps there and if there isn’t anything else going on, my Amazing Big Brother and I recommend rolling down the gentle incline from the main entrance to the main floor. You may find, like us, that a gaggle of art students mistake it for an exhibition and join in. It’s astonishing that no-one has offered us $10 million to come back.
Even in the holidays the Tate Modern’s sheer size means that with the exception of the indoor cafes and the lifts it doesn’t get too busy. Never ever refuse to get on a lift at the Tate Modern just because it is going down when you want to go up is Mama’s advice. For some reason, despite the fact that there are six cubicles, you will stand there for 20 minutes waiting for the next one to stop at your floor.
Anyway. The Tate Modern isn’t a bad place to while away a damp few hours for adults and has a better than average chance of offering some art that kids might actually enjoy looking at. But not touching. No hands. NO HANDS. No, don’t lie down there. Eeek! Don’t step on that! Don’t… oh, ok, that’s a fire extinguisher. Says Mama.
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about bluffing your way through an art gallery.
Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Opening: Sun-Thurs 10-18.00, Fri-Sat 10-22.00.
Price: Admission is free.
By tube/ train: Waterloo station is a fifteen to twenty minute walk down the river Thames. Southwark (Jubilee line), Blackfriers (District and Circle lines), St Paul’s (Central line) and London Bridge (Overland) are nearer.
By bus: Routes 45, 63, 100, RV1, 381 and 344 stop nearby.
By boat: You can get a boat between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain and vice versa should you so wish.
By car: Even the gallery website says this would be an unwise transportation choice.
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