Twelve years after the opening of Tate Modern, a new addition to Europe’s most popular gallery of modern art is close to completion: Tate Modern 2. While this much-anticipated sequel was announced several years ago, its construction has been underway since last summer with the first phase due to be finished this year; by no coincidence, at the same time London welcomes the world to the 2012 Olympics.
As with Tate Modern itself, the new section designed by Herzog & de Meuron draws upon its architectural history to create something entirely new. Increasing the gallery’s overall space by a massive 60%, the new 25,000 sq ft building will sit to the south of the original gallery, expanding on Tate Modern’s famous origins by incorporating the former oil tanks that once powered Bankside Power Station in the mid twentieth-century.
In these dark underground recesses, Tate will be able to hold new installations and performance pieces including dance, music, film and spoken word. Divided into three parts, the tanks will accommodate a changing programme of exhibitions in one, performances and events in another and supporting facilities in the third. The raw industrial surroundings will provide an interesting backdrop to the major artworks it will hold – as with many contemporary galleries, Tate is searching for antidotes to the conventional ‘white cube’ interior.
In keeping with the historical structure, the extension also has a brick facade. Yet this unfashionable material is reinvigorated with a perforated lattice, which allows interior lights to glow through during hours of darkness. The new section will also include different types of galleries and public spaces on the upper levels, accessible through a series of wide, maze-like staircases that double-up as resting or meeting points.
The project was greatly needed given the gallery’s enormous success. In fact its eventual expansion seemed inevitable; with an expected number of around 2.5 million, under Sir Nicholas Serota’s direction Tate Modern received 5 million visitors in its first year alone.
Meanwhile, the overall picture of the UK’s arts industries is becoming increasingly divided. Last year’s dreaded Arts Council cuts resulted in more funding into the larger, more successful galleries in the UK, leaving little or none left for many of their smaller, independently run counterparts – many of which have gone into administration as a result.
While the cuts have undoubtedly had an effect on all art institutions – Tate Modern’s own government contribution for this project was cut by 15%, meaning the second phase of its completion is being pushed back to 2016 – this £215m renovation could be seen as a portentous new symbol on London’s skyline. The government’s response to the recession indicates a dominant focus on the improvement and expansion of well-established galleries, while smaller independents are having to find their own ways to keep hold of their businesses or face total extinction. In this respect, Herzog’s prophecy that Tate Modern 2 will be ‘even more of a success with people, even more a part of London’ is a reflection of the times, but for some, not a necessarily positive one.