Tate Modern Switch House opens its London doors
Earlier this month saw the opening of Switch House, the much-anticipated extension to London’s Tate Modern. They’re calling it the ‘cathedral of culture’, given the sheer number of visitors to the most successful gallery for contemporary art in history. Some recorded five million make their way here annually, and the new building will surely add to its popularity.
Switch House is dedicated to the display, screening, and performance of contemporary art. Designed by renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, it has taken 12 years to complete at a cost of £260m, making it the largest cultural project since the British Library was opened in 1998.
Switch House is big, rather huge on the opening day we visited, visitors dwarfed by the sheer scale of this twisting, distorted, textured pyramid, clad in the perforated lattice of brick, and reaching high up into the sky. Inside is visually striking too, with its contrast of sensuous swirling concrete and sharp defined angles and edges. Walk the ten floors to the viewing gallery – the journey itself is part of the charm as the staircase alters in form and proportion. The open platform offers a panoramic vista of London’s architectural history.
The new space is designed to alter the way we digest art. De Meuron explains; ‘Inside the museum, for the horizontal configuration of the classical galleries in the Boiler House is now enhanced with the vertical boulevard of the new extension, creating a kind of architectural topography through the building that will offer unexpected opportunities for both artists and curators to present art outside the official display areas of the gallery.’
This complements the work of Tate Modern director, Frances Morris, who is keen to transform the gallery’s collection to embrace other mediums – film and performance – and widen the international and gender representation. ‘I am delighted to now have the space to show this broader story of modern and contemporary art to the public for free.’
‘You don’t build museums for tomorrow, you build them for generations,’ said Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota at the inauguration. ‘This is going to be here for decades.’ He went on to add that the aim of the gallery is to be local, be global, and forge relationships with communities here and worldwide. These words are perhaps more poignant two weeks on given the Brexit vote and the political events that have followed since.
In an emotive speech that followed, London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to create affordable artist studios throughout the city, clearly grasping the soft power it offers London and the UK. ‘I’m putting culture at the very core of my policies, up there alongside housing,’ he followed. Khan said the gallery will inspire new audiences and add to London’s cultural pull. ‘I want to apply the Tate Modern thinking to how I approach my plans.’ If this can indeed be implemented, as a creative agency in London, it is music to our ears.
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