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The BBC's Rosie Millard reports
"One of the World's most important modern galleries"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 11:59 GMT
Thoroughly modern Tate

The Tate Modern promises to revitalise London's South Bank

The Tate gallery at Bankside, perched beside London's River Thames, is set to become the world's largest museum devoted to modern art.

And the announcement, on Tuesday, of a major funding boost means the 134m museum will be free to the public from day one.

Tate Modern, as it is to be known (reputedly at the suggestion of London cabbies), occupies the refurbished shell of the Bankside Power Station.

Bankside's original architect was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the man behind Battersea Power Station, Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral and the old-fashioned red telephone boxes.

Telephone box: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's other famous design
It took contractors two years to rip out the power station's boilers and turbines, which fell silent in 1981, less than 20 years after the building was first completed.

Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who were chosen to transform the huge brick building, have retained many of its existing features.

Inside the gallery's lobby, the 100ft-high former turbine hall, no attempt has been made to disguise the towering steel columns or industrial brickwork.

The power station's elegant 325ft central chimney also remains.

To either side of this, Herzog and de Meuron have added a glass structure the length of the building.

The addition not only houses two extra gallery floors, but allows for the entry of natural light into the remainder of the building.

Much of the powerstation's design has been retained
As well as the vast turbine hall, the architects have also incorporated some unusually large gallery spaces into their design. Some of the 60 rooms have ceilings 40-ft high.

The building's heritage and multi-million pound re-vamp are not the only thing which will set Tate Modern apart.

At present, less than a fifth of the Tate's modern art collection can be displayed in its existing galleries in Liverpool, St Ives and at its old Millbank site - a mile or so upriver from the new London gallery.

The 20th Century works, from artists around the world, also sit rather uncomfortably with the gallery's predominance of older British art.

It is arguable that the jarring proximity of traditional paintings with modern works such as Carl Andre's notorious Equivalent VIII bricks, attracted undue criticism of the Tate's contemporary art purchases.

Tate Modern will allow curators to exhibit 60% of available works. In a novel departure, these will be arranged in themes - self-portraits, landscapes, war - rather than by school or chronology.

The Globe Theatre has also lifted Southwark
The turbine hall will also house specially commissioned works by veteran artist Louise Bourgeois.

Although not open until May, the project has already been credited with revitalising the surrounding area.

Despite a number of concerted efforts, Southwark has long resisted following neighbouring areas into fashion.

The Tate Modern, along with the nearby Globe Theatre, the Oxo Tower and Jubilee Line tube extension have seen local property prices rise by 30% as gentrification takes hold with a vengeance.

With two million visitors expected to flood into the Tate Modern every year, the rise of Southwark looks set to continue.

Looking up: The bridge to St Paul's
The area is even to be joined to St Paul's across the river by a footbridge designed by Norman Foster and sculptor Sir Anthony Caro.

The art world is not entirely agog at the prospect of such a cultural behemoth opening on the South Bank.

Many rival curators blame Tate Modern - which attracted 54m of lottery cash - for sucking up more than its fair share of sponsorship.

The old Tate, to be named Tate Britain following the departure of its international modern art, may also fall into the shadow of the new gallery.

Bosses at the neo-classical original, opened in 1897, are already planning to link both buildings with a boat service and offer free bike hire to ensure Millbank can continue to attract the public.

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See also:
08 Feb 00 |  UK
Labour accused of museum U-turn
20 Jan 00 |  Entertainment
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