Time for the Tates to work to­gether

Country Life Every Week - - Athena - Cul­tural Cru­sader

SOME months ago, Athena ques­tioned whether Tate in its cur­rent form of four mu­se­ums needed a new over­ar­ch­ing di­rec­tor to re­place Sir Ni­cholas Serota (Septem­ber 28, 2016). At the time of go­ing to press, how­ever, Dr Maria Bal­shaw, presently Di­rec­tor of the Whit­worth, Univer­sity of Manch­ester and Manch­ester City Gal­leries, seems poised to take up this job. She is not a cu­ra­tor by train­ing, but her re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence in Manch­ester of run­ning sev­eral mu­se­ums should stand her in good stead for the task in hand. We wish her well. Nev­er­the­less, we also hope that she will pre­side over some pro­found changes to this great in­sti­tu­tion.

Tate has not only been re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful over the past decade, it has also en­joyed some­thing of a charmed life in its re­la­tion­ship with the Gov­ern­ment. De­spite the cur­rent fi­nan­cial strin­gen­cies, it has suf­fered very small cuts rel­a­tive to most State-funded cul­tural bod­ies. Over the same pe­riod, it has con­tin­ued to plan projects on the most am­bi­tious scale. The new ex­ten­sion of Tate Modern, for ex­am­ple, has cost £260 mil­lion.

Con­trast that to the launch of the new English Her­itage char­ity last year. This has re­spon­si­bil­ity for 420 his­toric sites around the coun­try and was launched with a gov­ern­ment en­dow­ment of just £80 mil­lion (and a main­te­nance deficit of £54 mil­lion).

Mean­while, Tate has pre­sented it­self— par­tic­u­larly through Tate Modern—as an or­gan­i­sa­tion that can ef­fect so­cial change through art. It’s an idea that has proved par­tic­u­larly com­pelling to politi­cians, who are al­ways ea­ger to claim tan­gi­ble re­turns from their in­vest­ments. In this cause, Tate has placed the pur­suit of new au­di­ences— through ed­u­ca­tion, outreach and block­buster ex­hi­bi­tions—at the heart of its en­deav­our.

One con­se­quence is that the fo­cus of its ac­tiv­ity has de­ci­sively moved away from the col­lec­tion in its care ex­clu­sively to­wards the world of con­tem­po­rary art. Tate Bri­tain in par­tic­u­lar has greatly suf­fered from the change. In­deed, it’s ev­i­dence of how Tate has turned against the past that all four of its di­rec­tors—in­clud­ing, now, Dr Bal­shaw—is a Mod­ernist by in­ter­est.

To be a Mod­ernist or other­wise, how­ever, is not a dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion from the task in hand. Tate Bri­tain’s pre­sen­ta­tion of its pre1900 col­lec­tion is cir­cum­scribed, un­am­bi­tious and in­tel­lec­tu­ally light­weight. With­out aban­don­ing its ad­vo­cacy of Modern and Con­tem­po­rary art, Tate as a whole should once again ad­dress its found­ing pur­pose: to tell the grand nar­ra­tive of Bri­tish art as a whole.

The ob­vi­ous place to do this is in Tate Bri­tain. Hope­fully, it could bring to the pro­ject some of the flair and imag­i­na­tion ap­par­ent in its ad­vo­cacy of Con­tem­po­rary art. If it man­anged to do this, Tate Modern and Tate Bri­tain would be com­ple­men­tary rather than com­pet­ing in­sti­tu­tions. In the same process, Tate Bri­tain, a flag­ging gallery, would be re­turned to great­ness.

‘Tate Bri­tain in par­tic­u­lar has suf­fered greatly from the change

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