July 25, 2020
The best modern art was made in times of crisis and terror, meaning this museum has never been a relaxing visit. But where better to discover the true meaning of a changed world?
When Tate Modern first opened its doors 20 years ago, modern life seemed comparatively benign. At the opening party, JG Ballard looked on ironically from a balcony as a brass band played acid house anthems and shiny happy people queued to climb a Louise Bourgeois tower. It is about to open again. But the world has changed utterly – and quickly. Walking through the City to get to the post-lockdown press preview, I kept passing boarded-up champagne bars and To Let signs on glass buildings. Approaching the London museum I heard drums and chanting – a celebratory live art happening as Tate prepares to receive visitors for the first time since March? No. It was a demonstration by workers in Tate’s commercial arm whose jobs are under threat.
But when the normal fails, there is always modern art. So much of the greatest art in Tate Modern was made in times of crisis and terror. Out of 20th-century war, mass unemployment and dictatorships came shocking visions. I followed one of two routes you can now take through the museum – this one leads through its collection, past the Warhol exhibition that opened shortly before lockdown, and now gets a second bite.