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The seven wonders of Tate Modern

The opening of Tate Modern’s new extension is the biggest art event of 2016. But how to tackle it? Here's the seven best bits to look out for

Eddy Frankel
Written by
Eddy Frankel

The Tate Modern that we all know and love has grown up. This summer it welcomes a new addition in the form of a ten-storey love letter to contemporary art, displaying loads of new pieces from the Tate's vast collection. The twisted, walnut-whip design from celeb architects Herzog & de Meuron is called 'Switch House' – an appropriate name for a building that literally shines. And so, to celebrate its opening, here are seven of our favourite bits for all you art lovers out there. 

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1. The jumping off point

Start Gallery

Don’t know where to begin with the ginormous Tate Modern? Luckily, they’ve thought of that, with a display that’s aptly titled Start Gallery. It works as both an introduction to what the hell modern art is, and to figuring out what the Tate Modern is all about. It’s a one-stop shop for artistic big-hitters like Picasso, Matisse and Lichtenstein. Essentially, it’s where you’d take an alien to convince them that humanity isn’t just a bunch of money-hungry, planet-destroying Trumpers.

2. Nap time!

‘Capsules (NPB x me-you)’ by Ricardo Basbaum

Art can be exhausting. All that looking and thinking is enough to have anyone reaching for the duvet eventually. Fortunately, the Tate has got your back this time, thanks to Brazilian artist Ricardo Basbaum’s bed-filled installation. Wander about the new spaces for a bit, then head into one of his capsules for a crafty 40 winks. It’s all about participating in a work of art and letting the viewer define the artistic experience. But also, you know, it’s a free bed in London and that doesn’t happen nearly often enough.


3. A huge dead tree

‘Tree’ by Ai Weiwei

Fans of taking art selfies rejoice! Ai Weiwei is back in the Turbine Hall for the first time since his mega-popular ‘Sunflower Seeds’ installation back in 2010. This time, he’s brought along a massive tree. But this is no ordinary tree, it’s made up of bits of dead tree, bolted together to look like a not-dead tree. He’s been making these big hulking sculptures since 2009, and they act as a sort of monumental criticism of China’s ethnic policies. But we all know why you’re here, really. Go on, take a selfie.

4. A town made of couscous

‘Untitled (Ghardaïa)’ by Kader Attia

Couscous: not just tiny North African pasta, but also the construction material for a model of an Algerian town by artist Kader Attia. His schtick is to look at ideas of colonialism, history and cultural appropriation. And here, he’s reconstructed the World Heritage Site of Ghardaïa out of couscous to symbolise its decay, and hung pictures of architect Le Corbusier on the wall to highlight the inspiration modernism took from Algeria. So it’s deep and delicious. Also, don’t eat the art.


5. An artistic kettling

‘Tatlin’s Whisper’ by Tania Bruguera

Performance art has been super on-trend for a little while, so the Tate is going to great lengths to give it a proper platform. There will be tons of performances during the opening weekend and going on throughout the year, but we’re ultra-excited about Bruguera’s ‘Tatlin’s Whisper’. The Cuban artist uses real mounted police to corral visitors, so, yeah, you’re basically getting kettled in the name of art, but it’s incredibly affecting, super-intense and totally immersive.

6. A radio tower

‘Babel’ by Cildo Meireles

If you just take a cursory glance at art history, it’s pretty easy to come away thinking that most art is by white men from America and Europe. So a big thing the new Tate is trying to do with their refurb is move away from that ultra-Westernised view and give more of a platform to art from the rest of the world. So you can expect works by artists from Zagreb to Sao Paolo, including this awesome tower of radios by Brazilian Cildo Meireles. Each of the 800 devices is tuned to a different frequency, which, if the current state of the radio is anything to go by, will all be playing Justin Bieber.


7. A room full of hair

‘Behold’ by Sheela Gowda

In an ‘up yours’ to bald men the world over, Gowda’s installation is made from human hair and car bumpers. Gowda has collected 4,000 metres of human tresses from local temples in Bengaluru, India, where pilgrims cut them off as sacrificial offerings. The longer strands often get sold to wigmakers, but the shorter bits get tied to car bumpers as protective talismans. Here, the hair is used to suspend the car parts in mid-air, like a hirsute Halfords. It’s minimal and surreal, and you’ll totally wig out.

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