"Neither a White Cube, nor a Black Box": Tate Announces Program for Oil Tanks, the World's First Permanent Galleries for Film and Performance Art

"Neither a White Cube, nor a Black Box": Tate Announces Program for Oil Tanks, the World's First Permanent Galleries for Film and Performance Art
Visualisation of East Tank 2011
(East Tank 2011 © Peter Saville, Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron)

Britain's most powerful art institution has announced the details of a 15 week-long exhibition-cum-festival, which will inaugurate the East and South Tanks this summer. Tate Modern's new spaces — which once contained oil fuelling the power station — are to be dedicated to film, installation, performance, and pretty much everything in between. It is the first time that a museum has conceived exhibition spaces of this kind.

"[For many years,] we had to work somehow between the gaps of the official programs," said curator of contemporary art and performance Catherine Wood. "So it's very exciting to have a location where we can plant the seeds of experiment and watch them grow over time."

The South and the East Tanks will be unveiled on July 18 and showcase a string of solo presentations by the likes of choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, experimental filmmaker Jeff Keen, and visual artists Tania Bruguera and Haegue Yang. Works by Aldo Tambellini, the artist, filmmaker, and founder of the Gate Theatre and Black Gate, will also be shown in depth.

"The collective spaces that he established in the NYC in the 1960s really established a template — as did the London Film-Makers Co-op — for the way we hope the tanks will develop: as a multidisciplinary, experimental space that really champions the notion that artists can transcend boundaries," said curator of film Stuart Comer. In the East Tank, a new commission by Sung Hwan Kim will be presented for the duration of the festival.

The raw concrete "Transformer Galleries" will also be opened for the first time and host two new artworks acquired for the collection: the sound and light installation "Light Music" (1975) by linchpin of the London Film-Makers' Co-op Lis Rhodes, as well as the group performance "Crystal Quilt," first realized in 1987 by feminist artist Suzanne Lacy in collaboration with Miriam Schapiro.

Education and learning are to be a key part of the venture. From August 16 to 27, part of the festival will be dedicated — and designed by — young people. "Undercurrent" will be articulated, explained convenor of young people's programmes Mark Miller, around "the construction of sub-cultures", "what culture is, how it's transferred, and how it's moved from one place from one place to the other." Tracey Moberly is to design an evolving "social, participatory space" using networking sites, London-based research group Dubmorphology will create a new sound and video installation responding to Tate's environment, and Rinse 106.8FM will add some countercultural groove to the mix.

The rehabilitation of the Oil Tanks marks the end of Tate 2.0's first phase. Designed by starchitects Herzog & de Meuron, a new building rising out of the tanks is currently under construction. It is scheduled for completion by December 2016, "but my guess is that it will be sooner than that," said Nick Serota. £160 million, 75% of the funding required, has been raised so far. It remains to be seen whether Tate's current large number of gifts dwindles if the Treasury's controversial plans to cap tax relief on donations goes through.

Although the Oil Tanks are marketed as the first permanent galleries for film, performance, and live art, they will close on October 28, and it might be a while until they fully serve their function. "We will continue on through 2013 and 2014 according to our ability to get into these tanks," said Serota. "We don't know yet precisely when the builders are going to let us in, but periodically the tanks will undoubtedly be in use. It's a festival that lasts 15 weeks, we'll see what happens thereafter."


The Tanks at Tate Modern, July 18 - October 28, 2012