One of my favourite free things to do in London is exploring the amazing museums dotted around the city. I’m as guilty as any one of taking this city for granted at times, so recently I’ve started to make a point of exploring it properly again.
Now, you’ve got all your classical Grand Dames of the London Museum scene (sounds like they all rave together with that sentence – though I have heard things about the joint Christmas parties…) We’re talking the British Museum, the V&A (my personal favourite), the Science Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern… or proper niche places like the Clown Museum, the Sewing Machine Museum, the Doctor Who Museum or the Freud Museum.
The Tate Britain falls squarely in the middle of the these; I guess it’s technically a Grande Dame with a really interesting niche – but seems to be a little more off the beaten track; each time I’ve gone (unless it’s a cold rainy weekend) it’s quiet enough that you’ll find yourself in a room on your own with the artwork.
London is one of the best cities in the world. Where else can you wander into a building and get close enough to priceless works of art to see the artist’s brush strokes. FOR FREE? It’s something that has blown my mind since I moved here from a (relatively) small Pacific island.
At the Tate Britain, you can walk through time and explore artworks from 1545 to the present day. Discover some of the oldest and best-loved work in Tate’s collection – including those by William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds, Gwen John, J.M.W Turner, Mark Rothko and the pre-Raphaelites – as well as the most exciting contemporary work by artists such as David Hockney and Dame Barbara Hepworth.
Right there, displayed with nearby pieces that tell the story of the people in those times.
That’s what fascinates me about art, architecture, film – the storytelling behind and making up the fabric of these pieces of history.
These rooms offer a chronological display of Britain’s greatest artists running from 1540 through to the present day. Instead of designated themes or movements, the display is is arranged by decade, so you can see an array of art made at any one moment.
It’s a walk through (art) history.
If you keep your eyes peeled, some of the artworks have an extra information plate – “Our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network, made up of a diverse range of voices of Tate staff, take a look at the artworks through the collection that have resonated with them. These are personal reflections that show a range of voices rarely given a platform.
These speak less from a knowledge of art history, than from the act of experiencing art. Some of these thoughts pose difficult questions. Others validate and encourage and make it seem that a gallery that is representative of all might be possible after all.”
I especially loved spotting the London history – this is what Belsize Park used to look like…
…as well as simply admiring the building that houses these intriguing works. This staircase in particular is stunning – even as I was lining up a quick snap, a guy coming down the steps starting gushing to me about it and showed me the photos he had taken. Nerds assemble!
Found on the banks of the Thames, the Tate Britain is about a 9-minute walk from Pimlico or Vauxhall Underground stations (both on the Victoria Tube line.) I spent a good couple of hours wandering, lost in thought.
Entry is free – advance booking is recommended but I didn’t and the friendly reception team were more than happy to issue a ticket for me. There are paid/ticketed exhibitions as well, but I was just curious to explore the permanent collection.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. (For the record, I choose both this afternoon in London.)
What’s your favourite kind of museum – old school or contemporary?