When the Queen shows up to open a new library or community centre she usually presses the flesh with important people and maybe makes a little speech saying how pleased she is to be there. If it is anything to do with dogs, horses or cows she will probably take quite a close interest. When she opened the Tate Modern art gallery, however, she simply pitched up said “I hereby declare the Tate Modern open,” and then headed back to Buckingham Palace. It is safe to say that modern art is not Her Maj’s favourite subject.
Nevertheless, Tate Modern attracts nearly six million visitors a year and is tucked in nicely behind the British Museum and National Gallery in the popularity list since it opened in 2000. In fact, it has far outstripped its sister museum along the Thames in Pimlico which was the original Tate Gallery and is now known as Tate Britain. There are four Tates in all, founded by a bequest of £80,000 and a collection of paintings left by Henry Tate for the foundation of what was then called the National Gallery of British Art. Tate had made his money from sugar, particularly the sugar cube, in the nineteenth century and the company merged with Abram Lyle’s firm, which made the ever popular Golden Syrup, in 1921. The sugar arrived in Britain in Liverpool, which has a Tate, as does St Ives in Cornwall, long a mecca for artists because of its good and cheap houses.
I normally prefer Tate Britain and recently spent a pleasant hour in the Turner Galleries there as well as at the Impressionists in London and Rachel Whiteread exhibitions (http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/phil-space.html). My preference is generally for representative rather than abstract art, although I love the Rothko rooms at Tate Modern and those Jackson Pollocks with their vivid energetic canvases which I think of as dancing in paint. Nevertheless, I find the thematic arrangements of the exhibitions at Tate Modern hard to get to grips with and still scoff at the money spent on Equivalent Eight (aka Carl Andre’s pile of bricks).
It was to Tate Modern that I went recently to see the special exhibition of paintings by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani who lived and made his reputation in Paris. Whereas Her Majesty is celebrating her seventieth wedding anniversary Modigliani only lived for half that time and had several lovers, many of them his models. The last one, Jeanne Herbuterne, committed suicide even though pregnant with their second child after he died of TB in 1920.
Modigliani thought of himself as a sculptor but gave it up for painting, probably because the dust from the stones exacerbated his illness. We saw portraits of his friends, patrons and lovers which were often executed very rapidly and sold cheaply, sometimes for the price of a meal. Modigliani found that his only solo exhibition was closed down by the chief of the Paris police because his nude paintings showed public hair, which he considered indecent. His paintings now change hands for hundreds of millions of dollars yet he died destitute.
Although I get free entry to these exhibitions with my guide’s badge I paid for entry in a fit of seasonal generosity and even paid for the audio guide which often gives lots of useful and interesting information, not least that the ‘g’ in his name is silent. I doubt I will every conduct a tour of Tate Modern but, at least if I do, I will know how to pronounce his name.
The Modigliani exhibition is at Tate Modern until 2nd April 2018:(http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/modigliani).