Art Insight #13: Chris Dercon
Director of Tate Modern
Making the Art more Modern
Chris Dercon, director of Tate Modern, has made an indelible impression on the art world with his passion. The museum, he believes, is not merely a place that introduces art to visitors, but a place of realization for ideas and a future for which he writes, produces films and organizes exhibition. It was under his guidance that the exhibitions of the Tate Modern flourished.
Ahead of the opening of the new Tate Modern building in 2016, Dercon is busy with preparations. We met the renowned Belgian art historian and curator in Seoul, where he spoke about the Tate Modern’s exhibition philosophy, the new building, and the museum’s relationship with contemporary Korean art.
Tate is a city within a city.
Tate is like an agora, a marketplace of ideas. - Chris Dercon -
Q. How do you see the Tate Modern’s role in the 21st century?
We have a group called ‘Tate’, consisting of St. Ives, Liverpool, and Tate Britain and Tate Modern, both located in London. Among them, the mission of Tate Modern, which opened in 2002, has been to showcase the concept of London’s contemporaneity, especially, the contemporaneity of its visual art. This is for visitors not only from the city, but from Europe as well as other countries because, before Tate Modern opened, only few small institutions and organizations had presented the story about modern and contemporary art. We have been showing what contemporary art is while trying to be an interesting public space open to the diverse visitors. Tate Modern is very democratic, entertaining, attractive and sexy. It’s very monumental yet talks about daily life, encountering both large and small problems.
Q. The Tate Modern’s new building will open next year, and has already become a highlight of the 2016 calendar. What will mark the difference between the existing space and the new one?
Tate is a city within a city. Tate is like an agora, a marketplace of ideas. The main architecture, which opened in 2000, and the new architecture, which is going to open in June 2016, as well as the Tanks, which have been run since 2013, are consolidating this concept. The public supports Tate Modern because it is public domain. Tate Modern is public space. In a city where everything has become more privatized and more expensive, people find freedom in Tate Modern. It is a kind of “common-ing,” “coming together.”
A few years ago, we asked visitors why they love the Tate. Some people said they came to experience the genuineness of art. But many said that they came because the Tate is a “space for encounters.” You encounter different people, different expressions, and share things you didn’t know before. Now, the museum that first opened in 2000 has been expanded. This extension includes creating new encounters with diverse art objects and concepts, with collectives and individual artists, with international and local residents, with the old and the young, as well as specialists and non-specialists. Tate Modern is a very democratic place. This sexiness in democracy was possible due to architects, who envisioned this public space they created. When people visit the museum from the city, they enter by crossing a bridge. When they enter from the east, they walk through Turbine Hall and its escalators and terraces. This is why I refer to it as “a city within a city.” The new space will include more space for artworks and more space for movement. Tate is a museum on the move.
Q. What distinguishes Tate Modern from other museums? What’s in store for the future?
The future of Tate Modern will always be intertwined with the public. Today, artists do not convey themes of shock, sorrow and isolation anymore, but the art of the 19th century, especially Korean avant-garde art of the 1960s and 70s, were like boxing matches. Artists resisted society and tastes. This concept of boxing was very important and still remains very important; however, embracing audiences is significant in addition to matches between the artists. In the same vein, I’d say that the future of Tate Modern is to create questions and to question audiences. We question things that Google cannot answer. We pose unexpected questions to develop conversations with audiences and gain brilliant answers. Therefore, the future of Tate Modern is the audience. We exist for the audience. We won’t just show what they want to see, but will encourage people to think and develop in other ways.
Q. Tate Modern has partnered and collaborated with corporations in the past. What do you think is the ideal relationship and balance between the museum and the corporation?
Collaborating with enterprises is an essential issue. If we don’t cooperate with various partners, we will fail. Today, we must share. And companies and corporations are facing the same problem. We are living in a very unstable world, and we don’t know how customers of enterprises and visitors of the museum will change. They change overnight. And the same issues and questions have arisen, about identity, growth and how to live. These issues are important for both companies and culture organizations, and artists are the ones who can provide diverse answers. Corporations and organizations can learn something from them. Artists craft small and large problems into their work, which interact with visitors. Although we live in difficult times, there is renewed hope in the development of conversation. Communication between artists, people and communities enable possibilities and suggest new visions. We can learn through this process, which is why we are working to develop a better life with corporations.
Q. The Tate Modern’s partnership with Hyundai Motors is a 10-year-long collaboration. What does this long-term project contribute to the museum and the audience?
The partnership with Hyundai Motors is a very long-term story. It has just begun in 2015, and it is going to last for the next 10 years. This partnership represents sustainability to public museums like Tate Modern. Its content is about patience and what will happen tomorrow, not today. Hyundai Motors and Tate Modern are considering how life is going to change in the next two, five, 10 years. They will grow together. The first commission, by Abraham Cruzvillegas, is perfect because that project also talks about the long-term and tomorrow. We think this partnership with Hyundai Motors is a true form of collaboration. To share the realities and the attitudes of tomorrow is a form of truth. ■ with ARTINPOST
Sturtevant <Warhol Flowers> 1990 Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas 2950×2950mm MMK Museum fur Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Photo: Axel Schneider ⓒ Sturtevant Estate Paris
Paulina Olowska <Re-stage of ‘The Mother’> 2015 Collage Image courtesy of the artist
Paul Nash <Letter from Paul Nash to Margaret Nash 4 July 1913> Document-correspondence Tate Archive Gift of Anstice Shaw, September 1983 ⓒ Tate Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)
Joan Rabascall <Atomic Kiss> 1968 Acrylic on canvas 1,620×970mm MACBA Collection Barcelona City Council Fund Photo: Tony Coll ⓒ ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015
Kiki Kogelnik <Bombs in Love> 1962 Kevin Ryan/Kiki Kogelnik Foundation Vienna/New York
Installation shot of <IK Prize 2015: Tate Sensorium with Francis Bacon’s Figure in a Landscape> 1945 Tate. Purchased 1950 ⓒ Tate Photo by Joe Humphrys/Tate Photography
Richard Eurich <The Landing at Dieppe> 19th August 1942 1942-3 Oil paint on wood 1,219×1,753mm Tate
John Piper <Photograph of shop front of Garnett and Hallmey, possibly in Derbyshire> c.1930s-1980s Black and white negative 60×85mm Tate Archive. Presented by John Piper, 1987 ⓒ The Piper Estate TGA 8728/1/8/131
David Bomberg <In the Hold> c.1913-4 Tate. Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1967 ⓒ Tate
Barbara Hepworth <Self-Photogram> 1933 Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper Tate ⓒ Bowness
Chris Dercon, born in Belgium, is an art historian and curator. He first gained reputation as a program director at MoMA PS1 in the 1980’s, and was director of Haus der Kunst in Germany and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in the Netherlands. Dercon also organized exhibitions at the Venice Biennale and Centre Pompidou. In 2011, when he was appointed as the director of Tate Modern, he spoke of the museum’s vision of the modern. His first year included a calendar of highly acclaimed shows, cementing his artistic and curatorial capabilities. In 2017, he will move to the Volksbühne theatre in Berlin.