The South Bank of the Thames is one of London’s historic and contemporary hubs for the arts and their creators.
Inside what once was a mid-twentieth century power plant, the Tate Modern museum could be a welcome escape from the outside world. The museum itself is massive, and the collection vast, so Tate Modern offers daily tours to help their visitors engage with modern art. The Artist and Society tour is one of a handful of tours offered. Beginning at 11 a.m., the tour meets daily on the second floor concourse of the Boiler House.
While the tour only covers a small portion of the museum’s collection, 45 guided minutes in the Artist and Society wing is the perfect beginning for future exploration of the rest. This tour offers a chance for visitors to understand the artists represented and their works, their responses to society.
Beginning with an explanation of the building’s history, the guide will then lead you into the wing to look at a handful of its highlights. The tour is in depth on some key pieces, giving you the historical background that you would not otherwise know.
For example, the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian is famous for his 20th century abstract composition pieces. This wing of Tate Modern holds his “Composition C” from 1935. The guide explains how Mondrian intended to communicate a spiritual message about the harmony of individuals making up the whole of a community––a message that was needed in the chaos of the mid-1930s. To the visitor, this piece is pleasing to look at. However, its meaning may be lost because of the style’s commonality today, from interior design to advertising.
Barbara Hepworth was an English sculptor whose piece “Oval Sculpture (No. 2)” is also in this exhibit. As a contemporary of Mondrian, she visited his studio and was inspired by his aesthetic. The tour guide explains how she and other modernist artists shared ideas and explored different tools to communicate similar messages. The guide mentions the relationship drama among these artists, too, adding another interesting dimension to their work.
The guides have degrees in art history and have also been trained in the particulars of the museum. One guide during International Women’s Week made sure to highlight the many female artists present in this wing. The tour finished on Lorna Simpson’s “Five Day Forecast” creative photo piece. Simpson’s piece responds to the monotony of the disadvantaged life of an African-American woman in the United States. And there are other fascinating works by Simpson in the Artist and Society wing that the guide does not have time to cover.
Given the tour’s in-depth nature and time limit, it does not cover everything in the Artist and Society wing. While the tour may be slightly different depending on the day or the guide, its core points leave out some of the most compelling pieces in the gallery. The guides encourage you to go back and see the rest––a brilliant suggestion.
Other highlights include “Civil Tapestry 4” by Theaster Gates, the “Seven Lives and a Dream” photo series by Sheba Chhachhi, and “Weeping Woman” by Picasso. If you have more time, make sure to see these and read their plaques for a bit of a backstory.
As a transition into the rest of the museum, go right upstairs to see works by the Guerrilla Girls and Andy Warhol. Both of these are powerful modern responses to society: the Guerrilla Girls with present-day responses to sexism in the arts, and Warhol to consumerism and the art world in the 1960s.
Following the tour, you have the chance to learn more about the lives of modern artists with the In the Studio tour on the other side directly afterward at 12pm.