When you’ve seen enough old masters at the National Gallery to call yourself a Renaissance expert, it’s time to cross the Thames to the Tate Modern, where you’ll find the artistic giants of the 20th Century. Modern art’s most famous figures–Picasso, Dalí, Warhol, Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothko–are all represented here, and if you’ve only seen their work in books or on posters, you’re in for a treat. Viewing these iconic paintings in the flesh — or the canvas, as it were — is an experience that lets you fully appreciate the power of the work, revealing a greater depth of emotion than any reproduction could hope to convey. An afternoon at the Tate is an experience best spent in a circle of like-minded friends, so make an outing of it and invite your art-mad crew … with the promise of wine at the end.
The surprises begin right from the start. Housed in a repurposed Bankside power station, the museum does a fine job of subverting expectations. Its industrial exterior hints at the vast spaces inside, but nothing quite prepares you for the moment you enter the soaring atrium of simple, stunning lines lit by London’s watery sunlight from vast windows. Almost operatic in its drama, the giant space puts you in the role of awed admirer straight away, and is a fitting welcome to the great works you’re about to see.
More than a century of art is on display here, leading you from lucid-dream avant garde to bare-bones realism. World-famous artists share gallery space with lesser-known provocateurs such as the myth-obsessed Cy Twombly or restless Pino Pascall. But the museum doesn’t belong entirely to the past. Living, working artists are represented here, too, like South Africa’s Nicholas Hlobo, whose amorphous, tactile sculptures speak to specific, 21st-Century experiences. Take your time and stroll through the five massive floors of galleries at a leisurely pace, enjoying the elaborate installations, realistic paintings, screenings of experimental films, and nature photography, among other art forms.
There’s more than you could ever reasonably see in a day, so when you feel like you’ve hit your art saturation point, end your day of discovery with a bottle of wine in the sixth-floor cafe, which offers a panoramic view of the Thames and city below. Perch yourselves on comfy stools, raise a toast, and imagine how Picasso would have depicted the cityscape. As you gaze out, you let your mind create bright cubist interpretations of the stately Cathedral of Saint Paul and winding Millennium Bridge. It turns out that art really does put things in a new perspective.