Patience is a virtue. For the past five years, I have looked out my window to see trucks and piles of dirt and men in yellow vests and hard hats. There have been cranes and cranes to build cranes and then cranes to take down the cranes that built the cranes. The road outside my building was switched from one direction to the other, then closed completely and then reopened. The taxi rank, which I relied on a bit too much, was confiscated; the taxis dispersed. There were many times when we just couldn’t imagine how or if all of this mayhem would come together.
But then, somehow, it did. And last night, we went with all the other hundreds of members to the members’ only private viewing of the new Tate Modern. The invitation said to come starting at 6.45, but to come early to avoid long queues. The sign outside, though, said it was open to members beginning at 4.00 pm. But life being what it is these days, we went as originally scheduled and when we arrived we saw a line which snaked around the side of the building, along the river and nearly back out to the street. Thankfully, the rain had stopped and thankfully the line moved quickly. But how extraordinary to see so many people queuing up for an art event. In this crazy world of ours, it does my heart good.
But what really did my heart good was the museum itself. It doesn’t just work. It’s magnificent. The original part of the museum, now called The Boiler House, remains in all its quirky glory. But now, connected by bridges and the enormous entry space of the Turbine Hall is The Switch House. This is the new addition, and it is ten enormous floors of collections, exhibitions, event spaces, a restaurant, and viewing areas.
The artwork housed here is everything we’ve come to expect from this, one of the truly great modern art museums in the world. There is plenty there to love and to hate, and that’s one of the glories of the collection. But the building itself works (although the overcrowded lifts left many of us stranded or trudging up the enormous staircases — but I assume that was a matter of the opening night numbers). The view from the 10th floor Viewing Level, which leads you 360 degrees around the building, provides some of the most amazing views of London I’ve ever seen, starting at the construction site which is to become One Blackfriars to The Shard. It’s worth coming to the museum for the view alone.
For over twenty years I lived in SW London. I loved living there and it was a wonderful place to raise the kids. But discovering East London, south of the river and the City has been one of the great joys of the past few years. To have moved away from all of this before the completion of the Tate Modern would have added just one more deep gash in my heart. Thankfully, it’s finished just in time. The trucks have moved on. The taxis are back. The trees are planted and the dirt piles cleared. And I still have a few more weeks to look at it from my window and pop in when I need a break from all the things I know I will need a break from. The growth of the Tate Modern has been a focus of our last few years living in London. The poet in me can’t help but equate it with the development of ourselves. The museum is now ready for the new phase of its life. I guess I can take a lesson from it and start to feel ready for my new phase, too.