If you’ve either walked into or walked past the Tate Britain in the past year or, so you will have noticed closed off sections and entrances. Major developments have been afoot, and now one of the main changes is complete — a re-arrangement of much of the permanent collection.
The galleries now follow a chronological path, such as you’d find at the National Gallery. This means we can follow the progression of British art from 1545 to today. Gold signs on the floor tell you which era you’re entering. Though logically sensible and easy to follow, this has resulted in some interesting juxtapositions, such as a Rubens next to stately portraits, and one small room with works as diverse as horse paintings by George Stubbs, a portrait by Joshua Reynolds and an apocalyptic depiction of Vesuvius erupting.
It’s interesting to compare Impressionism to the Pre-Raphaelites but once we cross into the the 1900s the art movements come thick and fast, resulting in some galleries with a jarring scattergun of styles. One extreme contrast we loved, however, is a delicate Calder mobile hanging above a monolithic Henry Moore sculpture.
Tate has also discarded the detailed notes that used to accompany each work, preferring just the artist, title and year of completion. This purist approach is likely to delight the art historians, who often complain about galleries ‘telling us what to think’ but it’s likely that most people would’ve preferred a little more guidance than the odd plaque, with a nod to various movements in art and perhaps some context behind how separate art movements evolved. Perhaps it’ll result in more people parting with £4 for the audio guides.
The new layout is definitely better than the previous design and rightly provides separate galleries for the heavyweights Turner, Moore and Blake. It’s a new look that’s met with much positive critical appraisal and, with the caveat about the labelling, we’d add our own approval to the chorus.
A Walk Through British Art is now open and and part of the permanent collection at the Tate Britain. Admission is free.