Popped in for a call at the Tate Modern on the South Bank here in London yesterday and was reminded again at just how quaint and old-fashioned the very idea of "modern" has become. Not shopworn exactly: this is a pleasant space to be in and it's hugely popular; one hears talk of twice the number of visitors they expected, and there at work on a new wing.
But the conventional centerpiece here is a nicely-laid-out set of galleries offering a (ahem) history of what happened in the art world after World War II. Indeed the centerpiece of the centerpiece is an instructive pairing of a Claude Monet--i.e. pre-1926--with a Jackson Pollock, so as to illustrate the birth of abstract. expressionism. For an audience for whom Picasso is about as dead as Leonardo, this is certainly helpful but at the end of the day it is the presentation of a received tradition. Which is not a complaint; the point, rather, is--how could it be anything else? Indeed the stuff two rooms down makes the point one better. What we have here is a multimedia presentation from Joan Jonas--she's my age, frevvins sakes--of which the motive force is a carousel slide projector. Faithful fans of Mad Men will recognize the carousel as a piece of technology whose very existence needs to be explained.
[There are, of course, temporary exhibits. The current showpiece is something on "Voyeurism" which, in a city that no doubt leads the world for CCTV cameras, strikes me as a pretty good joke.]
Of course I don't see how it could be any other way. Once you've designated a space and opened it to the public for presentations you've settled all the relevant questions. But it's still, as I say a pleasant space to be in. Indeed one of the gems of London is the cafe/bar on the seventh floor. The baristas (sic, not bartenders?) up there could I suppose give you a bit of helpful instruction on the matter of why Damien Hirst is so passé. But the real draw is the north-facing patio with its view of the Millennium Bridge and the dome of St. Paul's. For my money that dome is one of the most perfect pieces of architecture in the world and so I am happy to pay museum prices to kill off a bottle of fizzy water up there. But it is a good joke that the best thing about the Tate Modern is the view of something built before 1700.