This autumn Tate Britain embarks on a process which takes the gallery into the first phase of a major building project, through a period of transition and into a changed approach to showing the collections in newly refurbished galleries. The two-year period between spring 2011 and spring 2013 will be characterised by new ways of thinking about the Collection in the BP British Art Displays at Tate Britain. There will be two primary approaches, firstly a route for visitors to walk through an open chronological presentation, and secondly in-focus displays which will give more in-depth perspectives on particular artworks, artists or themes.
In February 2011, Tate Britain will begin a major project to conserve and upgrade a number of its beautiful historic galleries to enable more of the Collection to be shown in conditions suitable for a wider range of art media. The project will also remodel and renovate core visitor areas – opening up the stunning domed atrium at the heart of the gallery with a striking new spiral staircase going down to the lower level – while creating much-needed learning studios and public spaces in order to meet growing demand. At the same time Tate Britain will present a major rehang which will focus first on the visual impact of the Collection, then on holdings and projects which have been less often in the public eye and finally will include many recent acquisitions of contemporary art.
A semi-permanent Collection display, running the length of galleries on the western side of the building, will allow visitors, for the first time, to walk through a chronological display of 20th-century British art at Tate Britain. Hung in a purely visual way, designed to engage attention through the inherent qualities of individual works of art, and in juxtaposition with other pieces across a broadly chronological run, these displays will form the back-bone to the gallery experience.
The 20th-century hang presents a fresh and open account of British art, highlighting significant figures such as Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Gwen John (1876-1939), Stanley Spencer (1891 – 1959), Francis Bacon (1909-1992), David Hockney (b 1937), Tracey Emin (b 1963) and Damien Hirst (b 1965), as well as many other less well known names. It also incorporates a wide range of sculptors, from Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) to Rachel Whiteread (b 1963). Recent acquisitions to go on show include Untitled 2009 by Martin Boyce, Top Gun 1994 by Fiona Banner, The Generals 2004 by Gary Hume, Untitled Installation (Dotted line) 1993-2008 by Ceal Floyer and Threshold to the Kingdom 2000 by Mark Wallinger.
Adjacent to the 20th-century galleries will be a group of changing ‘in-focus’ displays which aim to highlight parts of the collection which have traditionally been somewhat hidden – such as the archive and works on paper – as well as showcasing new acquisitions and collaborative work with specialists both in and out of the gallery. They will also offer new ways of looking at key British artists. Blake & Physiognomy, for example, incorporates new research into the significance of faces and figures portrayed by William Blake, while an in-focus display about Court, Country and City in the Restoration period looks at the evolution of different genres. These in-focus displays will change every six to nine months, offsetting the main hang with the wide range of period, material and approach which they will cover.
Pre-20th-century painting will be found in two in-focus displays, in the large central gallery off the Octagon (gallery 9) and the Clore Gallery. The central gallery will bring together over 70 key works from the 16th to the 19th centuries, including such iconic masterpieces as Millais’ Ophelia 1851-2, Hogarth’s Self Portrait with Pug 1745 and Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott 1888. The Clore Gallery will continue to house the BP British Art Display: The Romantics, a display devoted to Turner, his contemporaries and successors, which opened in summer 2010. Here, visitors will find Turner masterpieces from Tate Collection including Norham Castle, Sunrise c 1845 and Sun Setting over a Lake c1840 alongside John Constable’s luscious Flatford Mill 1816-17, and many other favourites from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as 20th century successors.
In 2013 we aim to extend the two-tier approach into the newly refurbished galleries, intensifying our use of all the collections in ways which reflect a wider range of thinking and interest. The story of British art will be told from the 1500s to the present day in a continuous semi-permanent display, in a way which will delight the eye and reward both new and regular visitors.