diamond geezer

 Monday, October 18, 2021

There've been some cracking Turbine Hall commissions at Tate Modern over the last two decades, and some stinkers, and a fair few unmemorable middle of the roaders. It's a hard space to fill, being both very long and very high, and a lot of artists have only really bothered with enlivening floor level at one end.

So I've been looking forward to seeing the new one by Anicka Yi in which giant transparent jellyfish bob around and float above your head to demonstrate the creative potential of artificial intelligence. It's got to be an improvement on bunkbeds, sunflower seeds and empty soil trays.

I hadn't been intending to drop in yesterday until I noticed that my walk would take me past Tate Modern just as it opened for the day. When better to check out the aerial spectacle than first thing on a Sunday morning? Two minutes to ten and no sign of a queue at the Thames-side entrance, excellent!

This turned out to be because a one-way system had turned this into an exit, whereas the sole entrance was now down the slope at the very far end. Continuing round the building I found a queue about a hundred strong snaking up the ramp from the main doors. It was well-spaced and polite and looked like it'd move fast so I duly joined the end of it.

It didn't move fast, indeed it took a few minutes to grind into action. A number of people walked straight past and down to the doors, presumably in case we were the slow lane and they could just walk in, but they couldn't and seemed to come straight back. So far so normal.

As the queue crept forward I finally noticed the notice by the entrance that said "All visitors need a timed ticket". I didn't have a timed ticket because I'd turned up on spec, and I assumed several others in the queue must have done too. No, they were now all wielding QR code printouts or firing up their smartphone wallets as we approached the entrance. I considered blagging it but decided that probably wouldn't wash.

I stepped to one side to allow everyone else to enter and attempted to book a timed ticket on my phone. This ought to be easy, I thought, everyone else has managed it. I found Tate Modern's website via Google and clicked on the tab labelled 'Book a ticket'. It was here that I got stuck. All I wanted to do was go inside the building but the website seemed to want me to pick an exhibition to visit, and it took a fair amount of back and forth to spot "Hyundai Commission Anicka Yi In Love with the World" in amongst the rest... and even that wasn't enough.

What I really needed to book was an "All Tate Modern Collections' ticket, but I hadn't internalised that "Collections" was their buzzword for General Admission so ended up faffing around some more. Just take me to a page that'll let me book a ticket, I thought. I've since tried it at home on a laptop and it was quite simple, but on my smartphone I ended up going round and round in circles for several minutes.

Eventually I got to the booking portal where I picked the right date and the first available time. The next page wanted me to pick from three different sizes of donation (£5, £7.50 or £10) with the 'free' option as fourth choice at the bottom. This didn't endear me to the gallery's priorities. And by the time I'd selected all the necessary boxes I got the message TICKETS HAVE JUST SOLD OUT FOR THIS ENTRY TIME and I had to start again.

It was at this point that the queue flowing past me eventually died down and the member of staff who'd been supervising entry turned his attention to me. I told him I was trying to book a ticket but was struggling, and he told me to use the QR code stuck to a wall on the other side of the barrier, and I told him I'd eventually found the booking page thanks but was still floundering.

He pointed to the QR code again and uttered the fateful phrase "it's easy", but I'd already had five minutes experience that it wasn't easy, not even if you were starting in the right place, and our conversation went downhill from there. He was polite and I was polite but when he repeated that it was easy I blew a very quiet fuse and walked away.

These are strange times and Tate Modern are well within their rights to manage visitor numbers by insisting on timed tickets. I'd have noticed this if I'd checked the website before making a planned journey but I'd done the ridiculously 2019 thing of turning up on a whim and been caught out. What then hurt was having to jump through several digital hoops, inadequately signposted, and still having nothing to show for it at the end.

I skulked over to the QR code and it did indeed take me back to the landing page where I'd already been. I picked the earliest timeslot and skipped past the interstitial trying to upsell me Tate publications. I sighed when that slot proved to have sold out too and gave it one more try, this time for entry in one hour's time. The website needed my email address to access Guest Checkout and on the next page demanded name, country, postcode and telephone number too. Stuff this for a laugh, I thought.

I get why Tate Modern don't want everyone turning up at the same time and overwhelming their socially distanced one-way system. I appreciate that the website says "advance booking is recommended but tickets are often available on the door." What grates is the need to work my way through ten successive screens to get an email with an e-ticket, not to mention the assumption that everyone has a smartphone, rather than having actual tickets available on the door.

Imagine turning up on a wet Monday afternoon and finding no queue and a minion with a scanner who knows it's not full inside but still expects you to apply for admission via the screen in your pocket. Imagine being told "it's easy" while you hang around in the rain entering superfluous information. All the emphasis is on the visitor doing the work rather than the gallery, which is great for them and unnecessary hassle for us.

One day it'll be possible to walk up to Tate Modern again and just walk in, faced by nothing worse than a bit of security theatre and a begging notice for a donation. If that day is before 16th January 2022 I might go back and give Anicka Yi's floaty aerobes another try. In the meantime, sorry, my review of this year's Turbine Hall commission is a bit of a blank.

I enjoyed previous years more.

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