Tate Britain has just completed another rehang of its collection. One of Serota’s innovations, the rehangs provide a good opportunity to see more of the collection and avoid the gathering dust phenomenon that used to occur before. This particular exercise though seems less successful; part chronological, part thematic it as if the curators were caught between chairs when the music stopped.
When Tate Modern opened there was concern that Tate Britain would become the forgotten museum. The logic behind having a contemporary modern collection on one site and a specifically UK collection which covered 1500 to the present day was never compelling. Gilbert & George where not the only British artists to complain that they wanted their work at Modern and not tucked away at Britain. Locating the turner Prize at MillBank and a series of changing exhibitions have helped to mask the inherently weak thinking behind the two-site approach.
Not only is there no clear logic as to why a British artist is shown at either Britain or Modern there is curatorial fudge between the two sites. When Modern opened it famously abandoned display by movement and chronology (the norm in most museums around the world and seen in full effect at MoMA). At the time in Fishing Line (a sort of faxed precursor to this blog) I commented that this thematic hanging was less to do with radical curatorial thinking and more to do with covering up the gaps in the Tate’s collection. Five years on the Tate seem to have acknowledged this but carries on with it nonetheless at Modern. But at Britain confusion reigns, on the left hand, or historical side of the gallery where we have Victorian Narrative, Pre Raphaelite and so on, a vaguely chronological approach is employed, then on the right of the gallery where things get more contemporary we get a mix of movements (Pop), quasi-themes (On England) and individual artists (John Latham). It’s more pick and mix than post modern (no pun intended).
One solution would be to merge the pre Second World War part of Tate Britain’s collection with the National Gallery’s collection to make a truly European gallery. The post war British art from Britain could then then be properly assimilated into Modern’s collection. Of course the chances of the directors of either institution agreeing to this or paying any attention to this obscure blogger are negligible.