LONDON — The art world gathered en masse last night at Tate Modern to celebrate the opening of The Tanks, a suite of new spaces nestled in the bowels of the former Bankside Power Station. Artists Jeremy Deller, Antony Gormley, Michael Craig-Martin, Elizabeth Price, designers Peter Saville and Ron Arad, and Frieze's Matthew Slotover were among the crowd strolling the cavernous underground galleries, which once contained thousands of gallons of oil.
Marketed as the world's first museum galleries solely dedicated to live art, performance, installation, and film work, The Tanks have been rehabilitated by globe-trotting starchitects Herzog & de Meuron, who also famously gave the Tate Modern its signature look. Unlike the pristine white cubes upstairs, the Swiss duo has here retained the old power station's raw, industrial feel. The building's past is palpable in The Tanks; it almost permeates the art on display and functions as a refreshing antidote to Tate's ultra-corporate visual identity.
The new spaces will be open to the public from tomorrow, and for the duration of a 15-week long program conceived as a hybrid: half-exhibition, half-festival. "Art in Action" involves a rolling schedule of performances and was inaugurated last night by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker dancing Steve Reich. The exhibition also includes the presentation of two new acquisitions: Suzanne Lacy's "Crystal Quilt," the film of a performance realized in 1987 with 430 women over 60 talking about aging, and a stunning piece of expanded cinema by Lis Rhodes. The "Commission" gallery hosts a filmic installation by Sung Hwan Kim interweaving autobiographical snippets and dream-like passages imbued with Korean history.
Talking at the press conference yesterday morning, Tate director Nick Serota described The Tanks as "a new instrument in the orchestra that is Tate Modern." "It will bring the kind of work that has traditionally been seen in alternative spaces, for short durations, and often barely recorded, into the museum," he said. "It will bring it into our own sense of art history as something that is not on the margins, but something central to art."
The Tanks's unveiling is a significant step in the £215 million Tate Modern Project, which will culminate in 2016 with the opening of a new building increasing the institution's surface by 60 percent. It also concretises the museum's will to diversify, both in terms of the media presented and of types of exhibition spaces. The new venues borrow heavily from the rough-and-ready aesthetics first developed in the 1990s and 2000s by underground and artist-run spaces which settled in derelict industrial buildings. They also bring to mind the bare concrete galleries of Paris's Palais de Tokyo: the textbook institutional appropriation of a visual language previously developed by those on the cutting-edge.
But as their strategies are swallowed up by the mainstream, artists move on, and Tate is keeping a finger on the pulse. A couple of weeks ago, Serota was spotted by ARTINFO UK on the 7th floor of a multi-storey car park in Peckham, South London, chatting with young gallerist Hannah Barry at the opening of her urban sculpture park Bold Tendencies. Next at Tate: art on the rooftop?
"The Tanks: Art in Action," July 18 – October 28 2012, Tate Modern, London