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The Tate Modern’s new wing is so modern it only has one painting

Photo of Tate Modern from across the river
Tate Modern
The new Switch House is on the right.
By Joon Ian Wong
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

After 12 years, a £260 million ($367 million) budget, and a new 10-story tower, the Tate Modern is about to reveal its makeover to the public.

The contemporary art museum in London opens a new wing on Friday (June 17), that gives it 60% more space. All manner of installations, performances, sculptures, photography, video, and collage—plus two live parrots, part of Hélio Oiticica’s installation “Tropicália“—will be on display. But what the public won’t see are paintings.

The sole painting we found in the new Switch House’s four collections is an ink and acrylic piece on canvas by Julie Mehretu titled “Mogamma, A Painting in Four Parts: Part 3” on the fourth floor (a separate gallery, not part of the main displays, does contain paintings by Louise Bourgeois).

Tate Modern
Ricardo Basbaum’s “Capsules (NBP x me-you)”

Plenty of famous paintings can still be found in the museum’s original building, the Boiler House, but the Switch House galleries are designed to show how art has become more “active” in the past century. Since the 1960s, the relationship between artist, audience, and object has shifted to a playful and reciprocal dynamic, leading to interactive creations like the Tate’s gigantic black rubber map of Beirut; the aforementioned parrots (part of an installation that approximates Brazil’s favelas); or steel cages you can crawl into with a partner.

Across both buildings, the museum’s re-hung collection shows work from 300 artists from more than 50 countries, and remains free to the public.


Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
The Herzog and Meuron designed Switch House.

With its makeover, the museum is also newly keen to play up its engagement with technology. It’s working with longtime sponsor Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has a $96 million budget for spending on museum tech at 15 institutions around the world. Collaborations include an iPhone app for creating “bespoke” tours of the museum, installations loaded with motion-sensors and special projectors, and massive interactive touch screens to help visitors bone up on their art history. Young audiences expect more technological offerings, explains the museum’s managing director Kerstin Mogull.

Does the focus on the new—particularly with efforts centered on smartphones, used by only half the people in Europe (pdf)—run the risk of excluding visitors who aren’t technologically savvy? “You can deal with that,” says Mogull. “We’re starting with iOS and then adding Android. We’ll also have phones that visitors can borrow.”

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