(Photo:David Bebber/The Times)

Tate Modern is ten years old. The redundant Bankside Power Station — younger twin of Battersea — is a miracle of creative re-use by the Prada-clad, bullet-headed Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. If ever there were professional archetypes, here they are. Their countryman C. G. Jung could not have specified attributes more box-tickingly perfect. Still, they have done a wonderful job. A postwar romantic industrial building has been thrillingly reconceptualised into the most popular modern art venue in the world. It was designed for 1.8 million visitors a year, but gets 4.7 million. (Runners-up are the Centre Pompidou in Paris, with 3.5 million, and the New York Museum of Modern Art, with 2.8 million.) Only a very dull person would fail to gasp at the sublime space of the eviscerated turbine hall — the essential internal experience for the visitor. No matter how often I visit, I am always astonished. But in its cavernous emptiness there may be a metaphor struggling to be put into words. Despite its success — Tate Modern is one of the top three “attractions” in the country — is there something empty at the heart of the whole boggling project?

Tate Modern has become a temple of the international art “world”. This needs explaining. Certainly, temples have priests and belief systems, and Tate has these in spades. But anything with the word “world” suffixed — as in dog world — does not mean a mondain connection to the planet-at-large.


Stephen Bayley
Times Online