© David John - Flickr: DavenJohn


15 highlights from 15 years of Tate Modern

Posted at 5:15 pm, May 11, 2015 in Arts & Entertainment
Tate Turbine Hall © Tate

Can it really be 15 years ago that the old Bankside Power Station was transformed into the wondrous Tate Modern art gallery? Wow, that makes us feel old. But what a mega 15 years it’s been. Here are 15 highlights from our favourite London modern art powerhouse.

1) Louise Bourgeois ‘Maman’, 1999


Made for Tate Modern’s opening in 2000, Bourgeois’ giant spider introduced us to art on a scale we’d rarely seen before and set the bar for every epic Turbine Hall commission to come.

2) Warhol, 2002

[Credit: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015]

A mega show for a mega artist, Tate Modern’s 2002 blockbuster filled 19 galleries with iconic Marilyns, soup cans, Coke bottles and car wrecks, causing a clamour for advance tickets that would have made Andy’s fright wig bristle with delight.

3) ‘Matisse Picasso’, 2002

Matisse Picasso

The ultimate art showdown pitted modernism’s big boys against one another. Who won? Tate Modern, of course. This was its biggest blockbuster of the year. 

4) PJ Harvey, 2003

PJ Harvey winner of the Mercury Music Prize© Seamus Murphy

September 2003 saw diminutive Dorset rock goddess Polly Harvey take to the stage in the Turbine Hall and let rip with a sound so vast it was like those old turbines had cranked back into life.

5) Olafur Eliasson ‘The Weather Project’, 2003

[Credit: The Unilever Series 2003: Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, © Tate Photography]

Us Londoners are used to forgetting what the sun looks like. Being part Danish, part Icelandic, artist Olafur Eliasson is too, which is why he presented us with an endless setting (or it rising?) sun for his Turbine Hall commission ‘The Weather Project’, thus allowing us to engage in the nation’s favourite activity: talking about the weather.

6) Carsten Höller ‘Test Site’, 2006

[Credit: The Unilever Series 2006: Carsten Holler, Test Site © Tate Photography]

Interactive art was still a novelty in 2006 when we fell head first (or feet first, for safety) for Carsten Höller’s slides. Nine years and several ball pits/balloon rooms later the mighty Höller reprises these ace childhood regression machines at the South Bank for his Hayward Gallery show this June. 

7) Doris Salcedo ‘Shibboleth’, 2007

[Credit: The Unilever Series 2007: Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth © Tate Photography]

A 500-foot-long fault line emerged in the Turbine Hall in October 2007. Columbian sculptor Doris Salcedo had the space rent asunder to comment on society’s divisions: north/south, haves/have-nots. The issues, like the scar of the piece, remain to this day. As does the secret of how she pulled off this giant crack.

8) Mark Rothko, 2008


The dark, otherworldly beauty of Rothko’s abstract paintings was ramped up to the max as all 15 of his seminal ‘Seagram Murals’ were reunited for the first time.

9) Ai Weiwei ‘Sunflower Seeds’, 2010

[Credit: The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds 2010, Photocredit: Tate Photography, © Ai Weiwei]

Ai’s sea of porcelain replicas of plump sunflower seeds prompted us to ponder issues of exploitative labour. That didn’t stop early visitors from pocketing a few for themselves (and Ebay), before it was decided that the ceramic dust created by thousands of visitors trudging across the installation would be harmful to inhale.  

10) Michael Clark Company ‘th’, 2010/2011

© Sonya Barber

The bad boy of ballet and his stylish dance company took up residence in the Turbine Hall in 2010, stretching, flexing and rehearsing in front of anyone who cared to stop and watch. They also enlisted a troupe of 100 volunteer ‘non-dancers’ and taught them a synchronised piece which was performed alongside the real dancers in a free performance in 2010, and then again in a bigger-scale ticketed production in 2o11. 

11) The Tanks, 2012

The Tanks © Tate 

For 15 weeks in 2012, Tate Modern’s vast subterranean former oil tanks were transformed into spaces for projections and performances by the likes of choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Amazing as many were, few managed to upstage the drama of the tanks themselves.

12) Yayoi Kusama, 2012


[Credit: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011 © Yayoi Kusama Photo credit: Lucy Dawkins/Tate Photography]

Yayoi Kusama may have been named the world’s most popular artist in 2014 but, having gone dotty for her art in 2012, we already knew about her genius. This retrospective introduced us to nine decades of the Japanese artist’s dizzying art. 

13) Kraftwerk, 2013

KRAFTWERK (MoMA 2012) PHOTO + WORLDWIDE 2012 © Peter Boettcher / Kraftwerk
[Credit: KRAFTWERK (MoMA 2012) PHOTO + WORLDWIDE 2012 © Peter Boettcher / Kraftwerk]

The Turbine Hall became an over-subscribed cathedral to Teutonic electronica as the techno-pop overlords played eight of their albums over the course of eight nights.

14) ‘Lichtenstein: A Retrospective’, 2013

[Credit: Installation views of Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, Tate Modern © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012, Photocredit: Lucy Dawkins, Tate Photography]

Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art was the hot ticket of spring 2013. Sure, there wasn’t much in the way of progression, but who cared when icons like ‘Whaam!’ were on display.

15) ‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs’, 2014

[Credit: Henri Matisse (1869 -1964)
The Sheaf 1953 (Installation View) Tate © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014]

The ultimate feelgood art, Matisse’s sublime paper cut-outs had us flocking to Tate Modern last spring. The show became the Tate’s biggest blockbuster ever, and the first to attract over half a million visitors.

Check out what’s currently on at the Tate Modern

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