The Tanks Open / Tate Modern / Herzog + de Meuron

With the success of the Tate Modern (the museum hosts approximately 2 million visitors a year), in 2005, the museum selected Herzog and de Meuron to expand its gallery space by nearly 70%. Since that time, we have shared the transformation of the design which began as an irregularly stacked pyramid of glass boxes to a geometric faceted volume clad in perforated brick. Yet, the expansion plans also include a vital component that is buried underground – the Tanks – which opened earlier this week.

More about the Tanks after the break.

The former circular oil tanks for the power station measure 30 meter by 7 meter high have been transformed from industrial remnants to amazing new performance spaces.   “The Tanks should not be seen as an annex but as the roots of something to come: they are not just an addition to what exists, or a decorative feature, but something really fundamental to Tate’s vision,” explained the architects.

Upon a site visit over ten years ago, Herzog and de Meuron were captivated by the potential of the power station for their ability to merge the history of the site with its contemporary purpose. “From the beginning, Tate’s and our objective for this new project has been to fuse the extension with the power station’s past and history, so that like the original conversion, it would always refer back to the building as it once was, which was rough and industrial,” explained Herzog and de Meuron.

Sculpted from raw concrete, these tanks seem to be in direct opposition to the pristine and formal geometry of existing white gallery spaces found above ground.  Yet, their charm lies in their roughness and their history is revealed through their exposed nature.  Herzog and de Meuron tried to minimalize interference with the Tanks, as original patina with all its stains, marks and discoloration was preserved and, new concrete necessary for structural reinforcement, blends subtly into the overall patchwork. For access to the spaces, the architects cut new openings into the raw walls and left the edges exposed as an evidence of their intentional manipulation.

“The Tanks and Transformers galleries are the opposite of the white box gallery, spaces where you are aware that you are underground, rich with texture and history, and uncompromisingly direct and raw, providing the viewer, artist and curator with new and different contexts and experiences completing the variety of spaces for art in the Tate Modern Project,” added Herzog and de Meuron.

Korean artist Sung Hwan Kim was the first artists to grace the world’s only museum galleries permanently dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film, with his work featuring a fantastical world of optical illusions.  The Tanks are open for a fifteen-week festival from 18 July to 28 October 2012 celebrating performance and installation art, and the rest of the extension is due to open in 2016.

The Tanks will bring more attention to performance and live art, an art form becoming more popular within the art community but is still uncommon to most museum goers (remember our coverage of the Abramovic Institute to educate artists and visitors on this art form?) As Charlotte Higgins reported for The Guardian, “The desire to focus work without physical form, that cannot straightforwardly be bought and sold, may also express a wider dissatisfaction among the art world for the vagaries of the art market and the extreme commercialisation of art before the financial crash of 2008.”

Catherine Wood, the Tate’s curator of contemporary art and performance, told the Guardian, “It’s no different from hanging Venetian altarpieces in the National Gallery. Art is often shown in very different contexts from those originally intended. In a museum, you can see things in the context of other works: that’s what museums are for.”

Photos by Iwan Baan.

About this author
Cite: Karen Cilento. "The Tanks Open / Tate Modern / Herzog + de Meuron" 19 Jul 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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