But it's also expensive to travel to, vast and sprawling, exhausting to walk around, humdrum away from the city centre, choked with people, and empties your purse like no other tourist trap. After just a few hours, I find I have had quite enough, even though I haven't really done a third of what I thought I might do. Then I want to escape.
I hadn't been to London for over a year. I've now had another bite at it. With my visits to Dr Curtis at an end, there is no reason to ever go there again, but there is still so much I'd like to see. So perhaps I'll go back sometime in the coming twelve months. But it'll be a spur-of-the-moment decision, and I know that I'll find it tiring and expensive. And that's why I'll go alone, so that I can, without ruining anyone else's day, scrap my plans and make for the next train out of the place the instant I've had my fill.
I've already mentioned that I went to see Dr Curtis in London last week. My appointment was at 3.00pm. I decided to get up there from Sussex by 11.30am, and, both before and after my appointment, spend time at a gallery or museum that I'd not been to before. Two places only. I knew I would not be able to manage more than that. I chose the Tate Modern, that world-famous gallery of modern art, and a little known museum of Egyptology, the secretly tucked-away Petrie Museum, at University College London.
This post is about the Tate Modern, the building. Tomorrow's post will cover the visitors and the exhibits.
The Tate Modern occupies a huge brick building that previously housed the Bankside Power Station, and it has been continuously developed on that site since the 1990s. Externally, it still looks very industrial, but that's perfectly in keeping with its purpose of presenting the best of modern art, and the cavernous interior of this austere brick and steel structure is cathedral-like in its soaring height and sense of space. It has a tall tower, and is a distinctive landmark when seen from the north bank of the Thames - in this instance from Queenhithe, near Southwark Bridge:
Across the river in front of it is the Milennium Bridge, for pedestrians only, which lets you shuttle between this Cathedral of Art and St Paul's, that Cathedral of God, almost directly opposite. The Tate Modern is of course well integrated into a continuous complex of South Bank cultural and tourist venues, such as the rebuilt Globe Theatre, with a riverside walkway linking them:
Halfway up on the river side is a café with an outside balcony, which gives you amazing views of St Paul's, as these pictures may suggest:
A lofty platform to see the city from! But even at this height, all of the tower has yet to thrust fingerlike into the blue sky, as a sideways glance upwards from the balcony confirms:
I wonder how many people have attempted to climb that tower?
Internally the old power station building was vast. Four floors of spacious galleries have been created on the river side, but that still leaves the landward side and the colossal central space to play with, presently the subject of an ongoing building programme:
It must have looked brutal when the disused power station was being considered as a possible site for the Tate Modern back in the early 1990s. The galleries show nothing of the steel skeleton from which they are suspended. But here and there some tidied-up steel has been left, as a reminder of the original purpose of the building:
I really like how the whole 'developed' part of the building has been made into a series of structural artworks, the gallery spaces and connecting escalators and stairways being in themselves reflections of the paintings and the three-dimensional objects on display. Equally so, the exposed piping:
The galleries vary in size. Some, such as projection rooms, are small and intimate. Others are long and narrow, others vast cubes or echoing rectangular boxes. Different spaces suit different works. For instance, this work, involving well-separated pure white fluorescent light clusters, could only be shown in a big room all to itself:
Other works, such as these sombre and brooding paintings by Mark Rothko, achieve their full intensity and power by being hung in a much smaller space:
Rothko painted these to hang in a New York restaurant, but realising that they were too dark in mood, and that they would unsettle and subdue the diners, he found another home for them. Only in a very large space, flooded with light, would they lose their oppressive effect.
Tomorrow I'll present pictures of the people I saw at the Tate Modern, and say something personal about the exhibits.