Beyond the Opening

-- Demystifying Contemporary Art --

Navigating the Tate

Being in the Tate Modern is like being in a vast warehouse – which is exactly what it was. It is a shell of a gigantic repurposed industrial building. The prestigious status of the art gallery within society has been reimagined and replaced by a utilitarian space built for the people, and for the display of art. Modern and contemporary works challenge and delight at every turn. This is no place for the faint hearted.


It is raining and we bustle in through the entrance shoulder to shoulder with a crowd that seem to instantaneously disperse as we pass through the gate. The vastness of the interior space masks the complexity of rooms within it. There is gallery after gallery – linked white rooms displaying curated collections of mostly the permanent collection. Rather than by year, works are displayed by theme, such as: ‘In the Studio’, ‘Artist and Society’, ‘White’… the list goes on. Works collected by this institute are from 1900 to the present. At some point the vastness will perhaps be diminished as the collection grows.

Amid the themed rooms offering diverse works by diverse artists, I stumbled across dedicated rooms displaying the work of both Monet and Rothko respectively. For me they were a welcome relief from the barrage of space, light, and endless visual impact of example after example of exemplary modern and contemporary art. I could immerse myself in these small, yet pivotal collections that offered a bastion of visual continuity.

Claude Monet, Water-Lilies, after 1915

Courtesy National Gallery, London 2003. Photo: Tate

Monets’ light filled abstraction of Waterlilies painted in the early 20th century is worthy of a trip alone the Tate. The canvass is so large it can easily dominate your visual field, making it easier to freely immerse yourself in the sparkling colours, and calm depths of the pond. The more time you spend with this work, the more easily you identify the brush strokes of pure colour that make-up the whole effect. Monet has masterfully constructed the work by achieving clarity of colour, seeking a true representation of the sparkling brilliance of life.

Red on Maroon 1959 © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 2020

Rothko also investigated colour and light yet in a very different way. Works are equally immersive, and as your eyes adjust in the dim light, and you take the time to really look – you see colour relationships and layers of pure colour. Rothko’s works depict highly abstracted forms that take the shape of various flat rectangles called colour fields. His intention was to illicit deep emotion from the viewer – perhaps an aim Monet may have also sought to achieve.

In conclusion, The Tate requires the dedication of time and ideally repeated visits over time. However way you are able to get there, for however long, be sure to plan your trip and bring a packed lunch, there’s lots to see.

Find out more information about The Tate Modern here.

Tate Modern Collection,

Tate Modern, London, England.