diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tate BritainCubed Art: Tate Britain
It can't be easy being Tate Britain. For a century you're the gallery to visit, centre of artistic attention, a cultural hub. Then your parents give birth to a younger sibling - Tate Modern - and everybody flocks there instead. Always the way with babies isn't it? Loud, cute and dripping with novelty value, and therefore magnetically attractive at the expense of the rest of the family. Which is a shame, because Tate Britain's as fascinating as it ever was, if only everyone else would notice.

The main gallery's classical Victorian, built on the site of the notorious Millbank Penitentiary. Within its 30 or so rooms is laid out the history of British Art from 1500 to the present day. The old stuff's to the left, and the 20th century's to the right. And don't worry, it's now quite safe to walk down the bit in the middle because the twice-a-minute athletic sprinty thing ended on Sunday. As you wander through you'll see how BritArt evolved, from portraits and religious iconography to landscapes and finally peculiar abstract splodges. Don't worry, there aren't too many splodges in Pimlico, most of that part of the Tate's collection is on the South Bank instead.

If you visit on a weekday, watch out for the school parties. The place was crawling with them yesterday - a complete range of ages from infants to A Level groups. The youngsters were making their own swishy capes in the middle of Gallery 2, then parading up and down to show off their arty handiwork. The exam classes were milling around everywhere else, some posh and floppy, others merely trendy and aspirational. They hovered around various paintings and sculptures, most sketching a copy into their notebooks, but a few just tittering at Tracey Emin's cruder outpourings. Beats sitting in the classroom looking at jpegs.

In a modern extension (past the shop) are many of the works of JMW Turner, all glowing skies and brooding clouds. Some are ace, with the upstart genius's brilliance shining through, while others just looked like weak luminescence. And then there are two paid-for exhibitions, one Francis Bacon retrospective and one Turner Prize shortlisting. I'm advised that the Bacon's unmissable and the Turner's prestigious, but at nearly £20 for the two I was willing to pass both by. Maybe I've been conditioned to expect my art for free, but when there's a room full of Constables down the corridor for nothing I'm perfectly happy enough.
by tube: Pimlico

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