Tate Modern, the Serpentine Gallery and the Photographers Gallery
In the last decade, new iconic arts buildings as the Tate Modern, the temporary Serpentine Gallery Pavilions and the new Photographers' Gallery have characterized the London art scene. They encapsulate fully the essence of the London's dynamism in arts buildings, becoming acclaimed arts hubs in a short time spell, and continuously reinventing themselves proposing new forms of art.
In 2000, a dismissed power station in the south bank of the river Thames, opposite St Paul's Cathedral, was transformed in what it is today the Tate Modern, the most visited contemporary art museum in the world. Its development boosted the surroundings area of the South Bank, making it a must be visited cultural destination. But the success story does not end here. Tate Modern has recently started a further expansion of its premises as a result of its British Pound 215m project that aims completion by 2016. The project includes the annexation to the south of Tate Modern of a new ten floors' building on the top of the oil tanks, which will be open to public view this summer on July 18. The giant underground oil tanks of the former power station, which used to be industrial chambers containing oil that fuelled the power station until they were decommissioned in 1981, will become the world's first permanent museum galleries dedicated to live art. The Tanks are regarded as the most important new building for culture realised in London in the last decade since the British Library in 1998.
The very large Tanks are accessible from the Turbine Hall, the main entrance of the Tate Modern. The East and South Tanks will propose a diversified program of performances, films, interdisciplinary works and new ad-hoc commissions. An additional tank will offer no artistic program but will function as a back room for the other two spaces. Finally, a raw of concrete galleries next to the Tanks, named Transformer Galleries, will showcase installations of recent major acquisitions of film and performances. According to Sir Nicholas Serota, the Director of Tate, the Tanks "will open a new range of possibilities for Tate Modern in terms of program and audience." The museum is looking at new ways to attract a young public, proposing new, cutting-edge forms of art, such as performance art and interdisciplinary projects.
The Tate Modern is not alone in transforming the art landscape of London. Another prominent example is the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, which commissions a different pavilion each year, and attracts more visitors than the Venice Biennale for Architecture itself according to Julia Peyton-Jones, its director. On June 1st the Serpentine Gallery opened to the public its twelfth commissioned Pavilion designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and artist Ai Weiwei, marking their first collaborative structure built in the UK. The partnership between the architects and the artist started with the realization of the Beijing Bird's Nest Stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and this latest joint collaboration links their artistic production with the London 2012 Olympics according to Julia Peyton-Jones.
On the opening day Ai Weiwei was unable to fly to the UK due to travel restrictions imposed on him by the Chinese government, but in a recorded message the artist summarized the essence of the ongoing experimentation: "As an artist, I am always very interested to put art, design, architecture and social change together to make new possibilities. For this Serpentine Pavilion, we tried to study what happened before and we also asked ourselves why do we need to make a new design for this event. We focused on memory and the past. We made a study to dig into the meaning of this total act and from that a very interesting result came out, which I think gives this pavilion a new meaning."
The Pavilion takes visitors beneath the Serpentine's lawn, a choice that the architects explain as follows: "Our path to an alternative solution involves digging down some five feet into the soil of the park until we reach the groundwater. As we dig down into the earth to reach the groundwater, we encounter a diversity of constructed realities such as telephone cables, remains of former foundations of backfills. Like a team of archaeologists, we identify these physical fragments as remains of the eleven Pavilions built between 2000 and 2011. Their shapes vary. These remnants testify the existence of the former Pavilions and their more or less invasive intervention in the natural environment of the park."
The Herzog & de Meuron's and Ai Weiwei's Pavilion includes eleven columns characterising each past pavilion and a twelfth column representing the current pavilion. The underneath structure supports a floating platform roof that collects rainfall water creating a mirrored surface reflecting the London sky continuous variations. The Pavilion interiors are made of cork, a material chosen for its unique qualities and whose appearance resembles closely excavated earth. Once inside the structure, beneath the lawn, a strong but intriguing smell of cork takes over the visitors, who can seat on chairs that resemble enormous champagne corks. Or as the designers' state: "The pavilion's interior is clad in cork - a natural material with great haptic and olfactory qualities and the versatility to be carved, cut, shaped and formed." On the roof, the water from the rain can be drained and the dry roof can be used as a platform for activities as dancing or playing music suspended over the park.
Another hallmark of the dynamism of London as an arts hub is the Photographers' Gallery in Ramillies Street, Soho. The gallery was completed this year, with a British Pound 9.2 million capital campaign supported by the Arts of England's Lottery Fund alongside several trusts, foundations, corporate and individuals. The project transformed a warehouse, originally built in 1910, in a cutting-edge space to display photography. The Photographers Gallery reopened in May 2012 with three floors of galleries, a studio floor for education activities, a dedicated bookshop and commercial facilities. Irish architects O'Donnell + Tuomey transformed the building with a two storey extension to double the previous exhibition space and providing higher ceilings. The new design rejoins the interior and the exterior of the gallery through adjoining large feature windows located on the fifth and fourth floors, overlooking Oxford Street and Soho. The building also offers a new environmentally controlled floor on which vintage photographic material can be displayed without risking damage. According to Brett Rogers, the Photographers' Gallery Director, the new building "will create a vibrant and intellectual hub in the heart of London's Soho for people of all levels of interest to enjoy the most democratic of all art forms, photography."