Crooning and Milling at Late at Tate Britain

Posted on January 15, 2011


Perhaps my visit to Late at Tate Britain was doomed from the start. On a damp and blustery, January evening I coaxed my cynical (yet ever obliging) boyfriend off the sofa and out onto the London Art Scene. He is neither a lover of art nor, with the exception of myself, of those who love art. So when, on disembarking from the long bus journey down from North London and finding that this particular evening does attract ‘that particular kind of art-lover’ – there were white leather jackets, thick-rimmed glasses and geometrically printed leggings-a-plenty – I suspected we were not in for the best of nights.

I have been to a fair few evening events in galleries, but Late at Tate has remained unique.  Most galleries open their doors for the odd evening, to allow those soles too busy during normal opening hours a chance to peruse their collection. It is also common for galleries to hold talks, show films or have poetry readings on these nights. But Tate Britain is something different; the entire gallery is transformed into a social space. Normal gallery etiquette is abandoned as the lights are dimmed and the drinks are brought out.

During this particular Late there were displays of performance art, in the form of spoken word and a puppet show, there was a DJ and several live music performances. The hoards milled, floating between rooms plunged in tinted light, catching the odd word or idea, whilst nursing the neck of their bottle of Italian beer and crooning at their fellow millers.

Bravely we penetrated the crowd and broke to the front of a semi-circle that had formed around a man with a microphone. He spoke his lyrical lines with fluent rhythm yet we were at a loss as to what he was talking about. The Tate has left this artistic space open and fluid – there are no seats, no signs informing about performance times, as in the open collection visitors feel encouraged to browse – to stop and consider a work for a couple of minutes and then move on.

In the DJ room (formerly Painting: 1550-1880) the lights were dimmed to such an extent that is was difficult to see that there were frames on the wall at all, let alone what was in them. So what you have is a large, dimly lit room, with people socialising and drinking overpriced drinks while a DJ goes largely unnoticed. Apart from a lack of seating, I was hard-pressed to identify what makes this different to any other London bar.

The performances may well have had their merits, however I feel this confused space only detracts from any power they might have. As much as I like the idea of exploring a gallery with a chilled beverage in my hand, I also require a practical amount of lighting. I think I’ll stick to daytime visits for now.

Posted in: Feature, Musings