TATE MODERN GALLERY. Facts and reflections based on an interview with the director Vicente Todoli
BORN ON THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST IN A SMALL VILLAGE NEAR VALENCIA, TODOLI STUDIED IN SPAIN AND ON FINISHING COLLEGE STARTED WORKING IN A SMALL PUBLIC GALLERY. FRANCO HAD JUST DIED AND AT THE TIME SPAIN WAS VERY ISOLATED, THERE WERE NO MUSEUMS OF MODERN ART AND NO EXHIBITIONS OF CONTEMPORARY ART. ‘I REALISED I HAD TO GO OUT OTHERWISE I WOULD BECOME THE ONE EYED IN THE LAND OF THE BLINDS. HE ASKED FOR THE FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP AND WENT TO THE US TO STUDY FOR A POSTGRADUATE DEGREE. AFTER THAT HE STARTED TO WORK AS A FREE LANCE CURATOR AND SPENT FOUR YEARS IN NEW YORK. DURING THAT TIME HE DIDN’T FORGET HIS EUROPEAN BACKGROUND. ‘I WAS IN A VERY PRIVILEGED POSITION TO BE ABLE TO HAVE ONE FOOT IN EACH WORLD. THIS HELPED HIM TO GET RID OF A SELF CENTRED VISION AND ACQUIRE A MORE GLOBAL INSIGHT. THEN HE RETURNED TO SPAIN TO ESTABLISH A NEW MUSEUM IN VALENCIA CALLED IVAM. HE WAS THERE FOR ELEVEN YEARS, FOUR BEFORE IT OPENED AND SEVEN YEARS AFTER. THIS EXPERIENCE LANDED HIM WITH A COMMISSION TO OPEN ANOTHER MUSEUM IN PORTO (PORTUGAL) - THE SERRALVES MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. HE SPENT THERE ALMOST SEVEN YEARS. TATE MODERN IS THE THIRD MUSEUM HE GOT INVOLVED WITH. ‘I WANTED A MUSEUM WITH A COLLECTION ALREADY THERE I DIDN’T WANT TO START YET AGAIN FROM ZERO....’
Museums are not theme parks
Modern and contemporary art have become more popular than ever that's a fact. Audiences have increased so much that museums are now part of a kind of mass tourism, something that twenty years ago would have been unthinkable. It all started with the so called 'blockbuster shows'. One of the first was the Tutankhamen exhibition in New York many years ago, followed by shows such as the Van Gogh, Picasso and many others. Nowadays exhibitions have to be marketed in a similar way as any other entertainment industry, like cinema or theatre for example. As state funding has generally speaking decreased, new museums depend more and more on outside funding and on revenue from tickets. That means that they have to go out into the world and employ the same tactics used by the commercial advertisement. But the programming of a museum should be balanced in a way that some exhibitions could be more accessible and bring in more people while others could present more obscure or problematic artists. A director shouldn't be afraid to use marketing and the publicity tools that are available as long as the programming is not compromised. To give in to the logic of marketing and simply give to people 'what they want' it is very dangerous, it like entering into the spires of a snake that bites its own tail. 'Museums shouldn't be run as theme parks, like Disneyland or as a TV station fighting for the audience'.
In principle I think globally and glocally
At Tate there is a policy to look at art so that there is no discrimination based on sex, religion or race, but there is no quotas unlike in America. There is a conscious effort to think in a balanced way and to look around and to reach countries which are not in the spot light. Until very recently only the European/ American axis existed and the other continents were completely forgotten. Obviously this is not the case now when, because of the proliferation of biennales and of international exhibitions, there is more access to other countries. On the other hand one should admit that in the western art establishment there is a kind of inertia so many artists living in other continents think they have to go to big metropolises for their work to have more exposure. That is how some times there are exhibitions of artists from Latin America or from Africa living in New York, Amsterdam or London. 'In principle as director I think globally or glocally' But of course there are always limitations; an artist living for instance in Kenya will always have more difficulties in making his work known than an artist from the north of the world.
Directors should never impose a vogue
Museum directors have to be open to what is going on and what is going to come not only in terms of art but also in terms of how society behave in reference to culture. They shouldn't assume only a position of reaction even if some times this is inevitable as it is difficult to predict what will happen, but they should also be in the active position of proposing. To do this they have to make an exercise of analysis in order to read the situation and from there to devise a strategy. They also have to keep in mind that the first remit of a museum should be to act as an intermediary between art and the general public and not as an institution that tells the artist what to do. In this sense, museums should always follow the artists. They are not like fashion magazines which can dictate what will be the fashion of the following season! 'A director should wait, see what happens and then select and should never impose a vogue'.
The Tate accepts works of art as gifts. The trustees are the ones who accept them. The proposals put forward to Tate are referred to the board of trustees and they make the final decision. They listen of course to the experts and in general the criteria they follow are based on various considerations. Does the gift fit in the collection? Does it fulfil an aspect which is not completely covered? Does it complement the collection? Is the gift interesting enough in terms of quality and in terms of localization? Tate
Modem is an international museum, but is also the gallery of modern art of the United Kingdom, which means that one of its priorities is to collect and preserve British art. 'Tate is therefore more selective internationally, but it has to be very broad nationally'.
'Usually I am not so worried about the various accidents that can happen to a director like to have to deliver an exhibition and there are delays or when there are no funds for an exhibition. But for me as director the idea of absolute hell is when the integrity of a work of art is put in danger. The second hell would be to organize an exhibition with an artist and then the artist is not happy about it. So hell has to do with integrity of art and the artists.
'I like the interaction implicit in an interview, despite the fact that sometimes one gets misquoted and in the editing process the original meaning might change. I must say that sometimes there may be also some conscious manipulation, I suffered it but still I prefer the direct contact. The immediacy and spontaneity are very important in conveying one's point of view'.
'A museum director should never quote any particular work from the collection. Personal preferences should be kept at home. However, this neutral standing does not imply that personal taste has not an influence on the selection of artists'.
Art deals with different aspects of life
Art is not always up lifting, some times can be down lifting. It is like with films. Occasionally you want to see a comedy but other times you want to see a tragedy. Essentially I would say that one option is not particularly better than the other as they both deal with different aspects of life.'
Tate has its own collection centre which is independent from the other four Tate Galleries. Tate Collection has its own building which is going to be expanded soon. In the same building there are also the research services. The conservators, the keepers and the researchers constitute an excellent team to make sure that the collection is kept and preserved at its optimum when it is on site, and that when it travels will be exposed to the minimum of risks.
Lack of funds
'If one starts a programme and then this has to be cut because of lack of sponsorship, it is really terrible, because one sends mixed messages to the audience and the cancellation gets misinterpreted like 'ah after all the programme was not that interesting!'
Live art and the curator dilemma
Tate had a programme which was called 'Tate acts live'. This is over, but there is now a Live Art curator who is waiting for a sponsor to initiate a new live art programme. Live art because of its ephemeral nature poses a challenge for a museum. How to preserve it? It can be documented with simultaneous recordings, but from time to time artists make photographic renderings of their performance and then propose the photographs to the market. These kind of works pose the question 'Is it just a document of the ephemeral event or is it a parallel work with its own autonomy? Should it be collected as documentation and archive material or is it worth collecting it as a piece of art? This is a dilemma that many curators face today.
The new Tate was called 'Modern' because a label was needed. 'Modern' implies that there is an attachment to modernism as the historical background to contemporary art. It gives the idea that at Tate Modern art is seen from a contemporary point of view, but not in a kind of fashionable or light and sceptical way. 'Probably what 'modern' means in a museum is to have a strong sense of contemporaneity.'
We are together alone
There are four Tates (Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives) plus Tate Collection which is another division. They are all part of the same organisation and work in close relation. They are coordinated by a board of trustees where the directors exchange and discuss common issues. Each gallery has its own director and its own programme and acts autonomously. 'We are together alone'. Tate Modern is one the youngest museums in the world because it has only four years, but as part of Tate is also one hundred years old, this implies having already a grand past and at the same time being almost like a newborn. On one hand there is an attachment to history, on the other there is the freedom to reinvent oneself as institution.
The Turner Prize
The Turner Prize deals with British artists and belongs to Tate Britain. It has followed a formula of clever marketing and publicity that worked extremely well to create an audience for contemporary art, audience that previously was almost not existent. 'It really put the spot light on art even if sometimes for the wrong reasons.' As Art Prize it has been so successful that its model has been imitated all over the world.
Acquisitions and donations
There is no fixed budget for acquisitions, there is only a total budget for Tate Collection and each year the director and the trustees decide how much is allocated to acquisitions They collect and then each Tate goes to the central collection and takes works to display in their own site. Of course there is a certain degree of coordination and the curators of the different Tates have an input in the way the process goes, but the final decisions are taken by the director of the Tate Collection. Acquisitions are made also through donations. There are several committees like the Latin-American committee, the American committee that buy works for Tate. Tate depends a lot on outside help and outside donations for the collection. And now that there is the possibility of a new law whereby people can deduct taxes if they donate money or buy work of art for public galleries, it seems the budget controlled by the donation will be even greater.
Usually it is the museum that looks for sponsorship, there is even a special department that deals with that. But at Tate they are very privileged. During the past year the gallery had an amazing visibility and because of the amount of visitors, it has become certainly one of the most popular museums of modern art in the world. For that reason every so often it is the big corporations that contact Tate and say: 'Well we would like to do something with you what can we do together?' Hopefully this state of affair will last! Sponsorship of course also depends on the economic climate; in times of crisis it disappears and when the economy gets better it comes back. Generally any company is welcome to collaborate with Tate and in this matter the government rules are followed. But there are certain limitations mainly dictated by ethical rules. Tobacco companies and companies dealing in arms for instance would not be considered acceptable sponsors of Tate.
Russian artists are already part of a universal history
Tate has a collection with Russian artists, but unfortunately it is not so comprehensive as one would love. Russian art has been extremely important in the first third of the century and the influence of suprematism and constructivism is still seen today. 'People like Lessitsky, Malevich, Popova, Rozanova are still significant and certainly they are part of an essential cultural movement that will go beyond this century. In my opinion they are already part of a universal history, Even now there are still aspects of that period that have to be discovered or at least reinterpreted. It has not been exhausted and that explains the fact that there are still many exhibitions being produced. What is certain is that in the 30s with Stalinism there was a kind of big black out and the situation went into a general level of depression. Artists had to retreat into their studios and kind of make almost no noise, some of them even disappeared in concentration camps. There was a long period where the artistic energy was kept in a very low profile. We in the West are not very aware of what was happening in Russia during the 40s and 50s, although there have been attempts to reinterpret that period like in an exhibition recently in Berlin. In the 70s in the west we were again able to reconnect with what was going on in Russia, like the movement of Sotsart and then some of the artists became very well known like Bulatov and Kabakov. So Russian art once more has gained prominence although not as much as it has had in the early part of the century. Now the situation is more normal, there is more access and the communication channels are open. At the moment there is a strong interest in Russian art and it is very important that this interest continues. Until now the traffic has been more from Russia out than from the other countries in, hopefully this unbalance will be rectified soon and then we can really say that at last normality has set in.
Four million visitors!
The danger of suffocating by success
Last year four million people visited Tate Modern. Of these four millions approximately three and an half came to Tate to the free access part which means the permanent collections and the Turbine Hall. For the exhibitions that have a charge it is a different matter, generally slightly above half a million visitors went to the exhibitions with charge. There are two kinds of audience The one that comes to see the Tate Modern as a 'monument' and they have an experience which is a bit like going to see the Tour Eiffel. For them it is just a 'must' to do while they are in London, as nowadays it sounds fashionable to spend a day at the Tate Modern. Most of these are tourists both national and foreign. Then there is another part of the audience which is the art lovers, who come for the art more than for the experience of strolling and being inside of the monument and finally a small part of these are the exhibition goers who go to the exhibitions where you have to pay. There is also a core audience made up by the members. Membership is very important for Tate as in a way it represent the complicity that society has with the institution. Tate has more than 50,000 paying members. This is a very positive sign as it means that there are 50,000 supporters there all the time. What are the challenges that such a vast audience generates? First challenge is to turn the occasional visitor into a regular one. This is not easy because many people consider a museum like a monument - seen once, done with it. Tate has to convey the message that every three months exhibitions change and works from the permanent collection also change so the public should feel that is missing something by not visiting regularly. Another challenge is to turn the visitors into ticketed exhibition visitors. The problem there is that there are 2 floors of free access (the permanent collections) plus the Turbine Hall. After seeing two floors of art, people think 'well why should we pay to see an exhibition?' A third challenge is the number of visitors. Four million is a lot people so often the exhibition rooms are too crowded which makes it difficult for the visitors to look at art in the best way. 'There is the danger of suffocating by success' Some measures have to be taken, as the number of visitors, which was taught to be due to the novelty of a new place, in the course of the years has not diminished. In the next displays therefore there will be a rework of the interior architecture so that people can have a better experience in visiting the galleries.
Artists movements and the YBA
The phenomenon of Young British Artists (YBA) which included artists such as Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin and which appeared in London at the end of the 80s, could in a way be considered a movement. Although it was linked very closely to the marketing of cool Britannia, it was probably generated by the sense of frustration and isolation that artists felt at the time. 'One doesn't want to do an easy reading of that trend but if Thatcher didn't exist I wonder if the artists would have united and reacted in this way. I also wonder if they would exist without the punk movement which again had to do a lot with the Thatcher years. Moreover one can feel going through that movement an anger can be traced in the British culture back to the post war years when 'angry young men' were shaping the literature and the theatre of the time. This is the second or third time that in Britain there is the kind of grouping that takes strong positions and goes into the world in a very aggressive way and says 'Hey we are here, we exist!' But now that they have by and large reached middle age and are not young anymore, Young British artists are not interested anymore in been seen in those terms but they want to be seen as individuals. That is why some of them have rejected Saatchi's attempt to keep them in his new gallery as frozen specimen of the YBA group. Of course between them there are still close friendships and collaborations, as one can see in the exhibition that has just opened at Tate Britain 'In Da Garda da Vida', But all said, London probably wouldn't be where it is now without the YBA.
Purchased with funds provided by Lynn Forester de Rothschild, jointly with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Centre Pompidou, Paris
© Bill Viola
C-Print. 207 by 336 cm
Presented by the artist 2000
© Andres Gursky
Photographsand collage text on board. 101 by 151,5 em image: 102,3 by 152,4 cm
Lent by the Amtrican Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of John Coplans, 2000
Oil on board. 107.9 by 107.9 cm
Oil on canvas. 200 by 251 cm
Oil on board. 114.6 by 140.2 cm
Acrylic on canvas. 205.4 by 144.8 cm.
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. DACS, London / ARS, New York
Oil on canvas. 266.7 by 381.2 cm
Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1968
© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 2002
Oil on canvas. 232.7 by 152.7cm
© Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 2002