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The BBC's Rosie Millard
"It is a personal triumph for the director of the Tate"
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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Modern times for the Tate
Tate Modern Gallery
The Tate Modern overlooking the Thames
Four years after construction began, the Tate Modern has finally been unveiled. Ahead of its official opening by the Queen on Thursday, BBC News Online's Angela Boon joined Tate bosses for a preview.

Most agree there is something for everyone at the Tate Modern, whether you are an art connoisseur or someone who has never been tempted inside a gallery before.

This gallery is unique

Lars Nittve, Tate Modern director
Visitors can feast their eyes on an array of art treasures by household names, from Picasso and Cezanne to Rothko and Warhol.

And there is no hierarchy here - Damien Hirst competes for space alongside his less well-known colleagues, with work organised throughout the gallery by theme rather than artist.


The aim, say the Tate Modern's curators, is to challenge people and make them look at art in a different way.

Entrance to Tate Modern
Tate Modern's cavernous entrance

The size of the new gallery may prove the ultimate challenge for many. There is almost too much to take in during a single visit, with seven floors of exhibits to get through.

But there is no need to walk any further than the entrance of the gallery, dubbed the Cathedral of Cool, to come across one of the most striking sights.

This is something we can build on, but I was a bit disappointed by the minimalism and austerity of it all

David Lee, art critic

Three giant towers loom up inside the former power station's 115ft-high turbine hall - retaining all the atmosphere of its industrial heritage.

The 30ft sculptures - surrounded by spiral staircases which visitors can climb - were commissioned from American sculptor Louise Bourgeois for the gallery opening.

Louise Bourgeois's spider sculpture
Louise Bourgeois's spider sculpture

She is also responsible for the massive black spider sculpture that dwarfs gallery-goers as they gaze up.

But art critic and broadcaster David Lee was not entirely impressed.

"We need the Tate Modern and this is something we can build on, but I was a bit disappointed by the minimalism and austerity of it all."

A tour of the 60 rooms brings visitors face to face with world-famous exhibits such as Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone.

The works start in the time of Cezanne

Another surefire attraction for many of the two and a half million visitors expected over the coming year include Monet's large canvas of Water Lilies.

Other works may not be as famous, but are likely to cause as much of a stir.

They include a display by Peter Fischli and David Weiss featuring a builder's table, complete with dusty stereo and all the paint-stained clutter and debris they have been trying to get rid of elsewhere in the building.

Four years after building work started, almost everything is in place for the official opening by the Queen on Thursday.

Builders' table exhibit
The eye-catching builders' table exhibit

Director Lars Nittve believes all the effort has been worthwhile.

"This gallery is unique in the world. For the first time, people will be able to see most of the Tate's 20th Century art collection. Before only a fragment of it could be displayed."

But there has been mixed reaction from local residents over the 134.5m cost of the gallery.

Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone
Salvador Dali's Lobster Telephone

Charles Osbourne, who lives just a short walk from the gallery in Blackfriars, south London, said: "When you consider the amount of problems facing the health services, this gallery is a disgrace.

"They had to close the Accident and Emergency Department at Guys Hospital last year - the money they spent on the Tate Modern could have saved it."

Others welcomed the economic boost the gallery will provide for the surrounding area. Cafe-worker Lorna Kyriacoui, 16, said: "I'll definitely visit if I get time. The gallery will be good for the area."

Newsagent Sue Patel agreed, saying: "It's excellent because it will mean a boost for all the businesses here."

Some 350 new jobs have been created by the Tate Modern, according to Bankside Development Officer, George Cochrane, with almost half the gallery's 65 assistants coming from the local area.

He said: "We have worked to recruit locally in Lambeth and Southwark wherever we can, in areas like security, building work and gallery staff."

But Culture Secretary Chris Smith was perhaps most enthusiastic.

"The development of Tate Modern will stand out very much as the jewel in the crown of a very precious moment of advance for the cultural life of London and the nation."

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08 Feb 00 | UK
Thoroughly modern Tate
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