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Britain's new Tate Modern museum 'a cathedral of cool'

May 8, 2000
Web posted at: 12:37 PM EDT (1637 GMT)

LONDON -- Britain on Monday unveiled a stunning new museum of modern art housed in a superbly restored power station on the banks of the River Thames.

Hailed by critics as "A Cathedral of Cool," the 134 million pound ($205 million) Tate Modern puts London at a stroke alongside Paris and New York as a leading modern art capital.

About 600 paintings and sculptures, from Matisse to Mondrian, are housed in a spectacular setting -- the cavernous halls of the Bankside power station that once powered the street lights and black and white televisions of post-War Londoners.

The original power station was built by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpool's soaring Anglican Cathedral and designer of Britain's distinctive red telephone box.

It has been transformed into a grandiose and sweeping art gallery by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. "The job was the most important in our career," said the Basel-based Herzog.

As the great and the good in the art world attended the unveiling, the ceremonies were enlivened by a performance artist demanding recognition for her work who gate-crashed the new museum with a battered old car covered in mirrored glass mosaics.

Pauline Wilson-Copp, who described herself as a penniless single mother trying to feed five children, locked herself into the Ford Capri car in the forecourt outside the museum and vowed not to move "unless of course I have to go to the toilet."

She called it "an unofficial bid to get the cosy world of Establishment art to change gear and rev its ideas up."

A spokeswoman for the museum took a relaxed view.

"It is a good natured and harmless display," she said.

Tate Modern will soon be linked across the River Thames near St Paul's Cathedral by a new Millennium Bridge. The museum, which will be officially opened by Britain's Queen Elizabeth on May 11, is expected to attract two million visitors a year.

At Monday's press launch for the international media, Culture Secretary Chris Smith said: "Tate Modern will be one of the world's greatest modern art galleries which will stand alongside New York's Museum of Modern Art and Paris's Pompidou Centre. This magnificent building is a symbol of London and the UK in the 21st century."

Until now, lack of space meant that only a small percentage of the Tate's collection of international modern art could ever be displayed at its Millbank site on the other side of the Thames. Now that figure has more than doubled overnight.

The Swiss architects have retained the brick shell of the old power station with its towering central chimney which dwarfs Shakespeare's reconstructed Globe theatre beside it.

But they have added a giant glass box along the roof, throwing light onto the themed galleries.

Artists like David Hockney, with his striking Californian swimming pool canvases and "Britart Bad Boy" Damien Hirst, with his pickled sheep sculptures, have propelled Britain into the forefront of modern art -- often with exhibitions that have outraged as much as entertained.

Now Tate Director Nicholas Serota can boast a world-class new site to display art, claiming at the press launch: "This museum will change the face of art. It will serve London, it will serve Britain, it will serve an international audience."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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