What's going on at Tate Britain?
December 12 2011
I don't usually like to start Monday with a rant, but yesterday I went to Tate Britain - and left scratching my art historical head. What a curious hang. Acres of wall space devoted to 20th Century works, and precious little to anything pre-1800. Tate Britain is meant to be the home of British art from 1500 onwards. But at the moment it feels more like Tate Modern Lite. To take two random artists; there are 3 works by Hogarth on display (out of 20 paintings in the collection), but 8 by Graham Sutherland.
Of 29 rooms open for viewing, only 3 can meaningfully be said to focus on works from pre-1800. Of these three, one room is a sparsely hung 'theme' room on 'Atlantic Britain', one is split into two small temporary exhibitions (good ones, on Rubens & Britain and the Protestant Church post 1660), while the final room, admittedly the largest in the gallery, also includes works up to 1850 and is so badly lit you can't see many of the pictures. (As you can see from the photo above, it's a bad idea to hang glazed works up high...)
It is true that a number of rooms at Tate Britain are closed for renovation, and this has led to the current re-hang. But the new spaces won't be open till 2013, and the current marginalisation of British art from pre-1800 may be seen as a worrying indicator of the direction of travel. In the meantime, it might be an idea to hang some works in the central Duveen galleries (above), currently empty. To see how such a space might work, the best example is the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (below).