Tate Modern Switch House

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The Switch House, the new extension at Tate Modern opened last June adding another 10 floors of restaurants, gallery space and a viewing gallery to the already huge Modern Art Gallery housed in the former Bankside Power Station. Taking the form of a brick clad ziggurat, it was designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron, who were also responsible for redesigning the original building for Tate Modern, at a cost £260 million. The intention was to

create more spaces for displaying the collection, performance and installation art and learning, all allowing visitors to engage more deeply with art, as well as creating more social spaces for visitors to unwind and relax in the gallery.

The 10th (top) floor is a viewing gallery with 360 degree views across London. So we headed to the top to take in the views before working our way down to the gallery spaces.

On a clear day there should be great views over the City and further afield. I reckon the gallery, which is free to enter, will get very crowded. Fortunately it wasn’t too bad when we were there on a foggy Sunday morning.

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The viewing gallery has raised some controversy as at the back it overlooks a block of multi-million pound flats which have large plate glass windows. The owners aren’t so keen on the hoi-poloi peering into their private spaces. The Tate director suggested they could hang net curtains to preserve their privacy, but that would appear to be too common for the wealthy owners.

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I have to admit to having very mixed feelings about the extension. The justification is that the Tate Modern has been a victim of it’s own success and that it is too overcrowded. Also it allows the Tate to display more of it’s collection. However, Tate Modern was already so big that it was impossible to really see everything during one visit. With the new galleries it’s even more true. We were “arted out” after a few hours looking around and had only seen a fraction of the works on display in the free to view galleries.

Even more, I really don’t like how resources are concentrated in London particularly when Galleries and museums in the regions are being forced to close due to lack of funding. The Tate are better than most national institutions in that they have outposts in Liverpool and St Ives, but I’d prefer to see them and other big national Galleries and Museums spreading their resources around the country. Unfortunately that isn’t going to happen.

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