Tate Blog

Gauguin: Heart of Darkness?

by Christine Riding

Friday, 3 September 2010.   4 comments

There’s been some fascinating comments on this blog in response to Nevermore O Tahiti and its potential meanings. Reading the comments through I was reminded of an edition of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ (1902) with ‘you know who’ on the front cover.

book cover for Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' with a detail of Gauguin's 'Self-portrait with portrait of Bernard (Les Misérables)' / courtesy Blackstone Audio Inc

It’s a detail from Self-portrait with portrait of Bernard (Les Misérables) from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It was painted in 1888, so well before Gauguin’s first journey to Tahiti, but after his trip to Panama and Martinique in 1887.

Van Gogh, who saw the painting, thought the shadows on Gauguin’s face made him look ‘despondent’. Funny how that sense of melancholy seems to evaporate when juxtaposed with a title like  ’Heart of Darkenss’ – especially if you have even an inkling of what Conrad’s novella is about. What do you think?

Tate Archive 40 | 1975
Stanley Spencer ‘Home Service’

by Adrian Glew

Thursday, 2 September 2010.   0 comments

TGA 756/31, Letter from Stanley Spencer, 1914-1918, Tate Archive. Copyright Spencer Family

When I joined the Archive department at Tate, one of my first tasks was to catalogue a series of sketches and drawings by Stanley Spencer.  This was made all the more fascinating and enjoyable by my guide, Unity Spencer who, like her father and mother, attended the Slade School of Art in London.

Stanley Spencer studied fine art under the renowned Henry Tonks, just before the outbreak of World War I, famously travelling from his beloved home village of Cookham to central London each day.  These were halcyon days as he mastered the technique of drawing among fellow pupils that included, amongst others: David Bomberg, Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, C.R.W. Nevinson all of whom are represented by papers in the Tate Archive

The war was to shatter many of these lives and yet by regularly receiving letters from home, Spencer, who had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps maintained a seeming sense of normality.  One of Spencer’s most eagerly awaited correspondents was his sister, Florence or Flongy as he used to call her.  She had been one of his teachers in a corrugated iron schoolroom next door to their home, Fernlea, teaching him all manner of subjects and taking him and his brother Gilbert on nature walks around Cookham Moor and the surrounding woods.

This bond was maintained throughout the war with both sides of this remarkable correspondence preserved in Tate Archive – it is astonishing to think that letters could be ferried to and from England and Salonika, where Spencer was stationed, on a weekly basis.  She would send him news of life back in Cookham, books and even loaves of bread!  ‘Napu’ (or no good) was Spencer’s remark when the bread arrived though he was highly appreciative of the thought.  Here we see the end of one of Spencer’s letters to Flongy thanking her for a book of Crawshaw and giving wonderful vignettes of some of the people he had met when transferring to the Royal Berkshire Regiment. His description and sketch of an ex-policeman is typical of Spencer: his love of the everyday, his positive and humorous outlook, and his concern for his fellow Man.

TGA 756/31, Letter from Stanley Spencer, 1914-1918, Tate Archive. Copyright Spencer Family

If you were on a desert island or away from your family for a long period, what sort of things would you like them to send you?

TGA 756

Written by Adrian Glew

The transforming of Tate Modern has started

by Donald Hyslop

Wednesday, 1 September 2010.   1 comment

It’s just over ten years since we opened the doors of Tate Modern. Little could we have imagined the huge number of  people who flocked to the building, over 5 million in the first year which exceeded our wildest expectations. Year after year it continues and now we are very much part of the cultural landscape of not only the United Kingdom but internationally.

The celebrations for our tenth anniversary marked the coming of age of Tate Modern and a series of exhibitions, events, gathering of artists and communities took place.  Very importantly also a considerable amount of cake was eaten.

Tate Modern's Tenth Birthday Cake

But in marking our tenth birthday we have also now embarked on the next exciting period of Transforming Tate Modern.

Tate Modern Transforms, Impression of the nre building from the south at dusk © Herzog & de Meuron and Hayes Davidson 2009

My name is Donald Hyslop and I have one of the best jobs in the cultural world, well I like to think so, working with communities and audiences in helping us realise this project. Over the next few months through this blog I want to give you news of and an insight into the project as it develops. I will also be speaking  to some of the people (architects, artists, businesses, community groups) who are partners in helping us make the project happen. With them and many others we will be developing the ideas which will continue to make Tate Modern a place where people will visit, learn, engage, enjoy and have fun.

Most importantly we want to hear from you. It does not matter whether you live in Lewisham, Lisbon or Lagos. Our ideas for Tate Modern mean the local, national and international work we do is equally important and we want to continue to develop this. It also does not matter if you are not able to actually visit Tate Modern. We want to have conversations and partnerships across the world with artists, teachers, community groups and many others in helping us create a new and different sort of museum.

Through this website you can find many ways to explore what we already do, our collection and become part of our plans for the future. We want to make this a place and a forum to inform what we do, who we are and what we will be.

Tate Modern Oil Tanks

Tate Modern Oil Tanks

Tate Modern Oil Tanks Work In Progress

Construction in progress

Tate Modern Oil Tanks

Since January this year we have begun to reveal and adapt three massive underground oil tanks from the days the building was a power station supplying electricity to London. Hidden beneath the southern lawn of Tate Modern the tanks have been disused and unloved since the 1970s. These cave like spaces have been inspiring to artists and others who have the chance to see them. They will become the base from which the new part of Tate Modern will rise into the London skyline. Once completed two of the tanks will be available for artists to explore their work in and for partnerships with filmmakers, dancers, theatre companies and many others. You can follow the progress on our live webcam and do use the option to see the quick time progress we have made over the last six months

When London hosts the world during the Olympic Games in 2012 we will be contributing with a series of events and activities celebrating the cultural dimensions of this global event. Last week I was lucky enough to visit the Olympic site and see the progress not only with the building projects there but with the way artists are contributing to the park and the facilities. It’s really inspiring and important work and you can find out more on the Art in the Olympic Park web pages.

In my next blog post we will start to explore some of the people working with us on Transforming Tate Modern. I will be talking to the architects, design team and the unsung but vitally important engineers working on the tanks.

Join me then

Twitter #askacurator day: 1 September 2010

by John Stack

Tuesday, 31 August 2010.   0 comments

Update: Martin will be online 11.00–12.00 rather than 13.00–14.00 as advertised yesterday.

On Wednesday 1 September 2010 Tate is participating in Ask a Curator day and we’d like you to take part.

Ask a Curator is a global, 24 hour Q&A session on Twitter and you can send questions about art, exhibitions and what goes on behind the scenes to Tate curators, as well as curators at museums and galleries worldwide.

Two Tate Curators will be stationed at computers here, logged into the @tate Twitter stream, for an hour each on the day to answer your questions (be nice, they’re new to Twitter!).

The curator of Rude Britannia: British Comic Art, Martin Myrone, will be on Twitter from 11.00–12.00, and Christine Riding, curator of the forthcoming Gauguin: Maker of Myth exhibition, from 15.00–16.00. See below for some information about each of them to give you ideas for what you might like to ask.

Ask Martin and Christine your questions using the #askacurator hashtag with @tate in the tweet too, so they can pick it up.

Martin Myrone

Martin Myrone

Martin Myrone is Curator of 18th and 19th Century British Art at Tate Britain. He’s worked at Tate since 1998. Recently, Martin’s worked on Gothic Nightmares (2006), Turner and the Masters (2009), and most recently Rude Britannia: British Comic Art (2010). Martin says Rude Britannia ‘was a lot of fun, and a very different sort of experience – working with comics and cartoonists like Gerald Scarfe and Harry Hill.’ His favourite ‘Tate moment’ was ‘probably the first day of Gothic Nightmares, and seeing two nuns heading straight for the erotic drawings that were being shown behind a discrete veil!’

Martin will be participating in Ask a Curator day 11.00–12.00 (London time!), Wednesday 1 September 2010.

Christine Riding

Christine Riding

Christine Riding is Curator of 18th and 19th Century British Art at Tate Britain, and she’s also c0-curator of the upcoming Gauguin: Maker of Myth exhibition at Tate Modern. You can follow Christine’s experiences of this on her Douglas Gordon / Art and the Sublime (2010), Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting (2008) and Hogarth (2007).

Christine will be participating in Ask a Curator day 15.00–16.00 (London time!), Wednesday 1 September 2010.

You can find out more about the event on the Ask a Curator website and follow the hashtag #askacurator on Twitter.

Tate Archive 40 | 1974
Richard Long ‘Specific Sticks’

by Emily Down

Tuesday, 31 August 2010.   0 comments

TGA 744, 'Circle of Sticks', 1973, Richard Long , Tate Archive. Copyright Richard Long

I’m Emily Down and I’m one of the two archive curators here in the archive. I’m responsible for overseeing the cataloguing that gets done here. From the collections that we accrued in 1974 I have picked an interesting example of an artist working with Tate on a piece that the gallery purchased. This item is a drawing by Richard Long and is a plan for his work ‘Circle of Sticks’, 1973 which is in the Tate collection.

Richard Long is an English sculptor, photographer and painter, and one of the best known British land artists. Long is inspired by his love of nature, the landscape, and the ways in which his actions infulence the way this landscape can change. Known mainly for his solitary walks which he then photographs he sometimes uses natural materials in the gallery. ‘Circle of Sticks’ is one such example of this.

TGA 744, 'Circle of Sticks', 1973, Richard Long , Tate Archive. Copyright Richard Long

The plan was sent by Long to Anne Seymour, assistant keeper in the gallery’s modern collection, when the work was bought by Tate Gallery. The plan itself, Long is careful to point out, “is not an art work or exhibitable in any way.”  It is a very simple outline – the sticks themselves are not drawn in, just the circle in which they are to be arranged. However, the sticks do matter:  the gallery was given some extra sticks along with the work, but Long asks for them to be kept separately, so that the circle is made up of the same sticks each time.

I chose this piece because it illustrates the relationships galleries have with artists and their art work: in this instance an example of both the very precise nature of the materials used, while also being quite vague about the make up of the circle. Since 1974 we have housed items such as this with the Gallery’s own records, although we often house items that accompany, but are not considered vital to, an art work for research use.

Do you think that the artist should have complete control of how their artwork is displayed, or should the curator have some artistic right?

TGA 744

Written by Emily Down

Gauguin in Egypt – did you know?

by Christine Riding

Monday, 30 August 2010.   4 comments

I was very sad to hear about the recent theft of a Van Gogh painting from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Egypt. When we think of the art treasures associated with Cairo, it would be those of Ancient Egypt, or Islamic art, or even European Orientalist paintings, right?

It is amazing to think of a Van Gogh on display in Giza, within hailing distance of the Pyramids! Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil (1873-1953), who was a wealthy and prominent figure in Cairo society, was passionate about French culture. He had trained as a lawyer at the Sorbonne, had a French wife, and even died in Paris. His collection includes a role call of French artists, Delacroix, Degas, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Rodin.

I was talking to someone who had visited the Museum and apparently there’s a view of the Thames by Monet hanging between windows overlooking the Nile – how gorgeous is that?

There’s also a fabulous painting by Gauguin, La Vie et la Mort (1889), representing two bathers by the seashore – one of those strange, mysterious compositions we love him for, the kind that at first glance seems perfectly straightforward but ends up being a profound meditation on the human condition. Have any of you been to the Mahmoud Khalil Museum? I’d love to hear from you, if you have.

 Gauguin: Maker of Myth opens at Tate Modern on 30 September. Book tickets online or become a Tate Member or Tate Patron and visit for free.