We have been to London England many times. On this trip, we only had a few days there. We spent our time visiting with friends, hitting a few museums, seeing a play and walking around some of our favorite neighborhoods (and a new one, in the case of Southditch). And of course, we tried some new restaurants.
We never need additional motivation to visit the Tate Modern when we’re in London, During this trip the museum’s Olafur Eliasson retrospective provided plenty of motivation—even if that was all we were to see. Or, in the case of Eliasson, to experience. Overall, the museum visit entailed a very full day, and this was without even seeing all of the exhibits we had planned.
Olafur Eliasson Exhibition
The Olafur Eliasson exhibit provides an overview of his work from his earliest works in the 1990s through some of his most recent installations. It showcases his work in such diverse fields as architecture, climate change and renewable energy and even cooking. All of this work is, as intended, perception-altering. He forces you to rethink the way you see and experience your surroundings through the use of colors, fog, reflections, shadows, distortions and misdirections.
You start exploring the artist’s career well before you enter the formal exhibition. Walking outside of the museum along the riverfront has his 2019, metal “Waterfall” sculpture. Once in the museum, you see his yellow-lit, “Room for One Color” elevators and his couch and sphere at the exhibition’s entrance. If you grab breakfast at the Terrace Bar, you can experience the layout of his studio kitchen. And the museum’s more formal restaurant offers a five-course, prix-fixe, low-carbon, organic, locavor menu based on Eliasson’s cookbook. (see London Restaurants section below.)
The formal exhibition begins with a display of hundreds of the models and small constructions that the artist and his team created as experiments with different geometric forms, shapes, and ratios (the artist, by the way, did study geometry).
This time period proceeded the installations that harked back to his childhood experiences, especially in Iceland, where he became fascinated by the fog and the candlelight by which he read. Among the more interesting of these are his moss wall, his recreation of rain on a window and most engaging of all, his 1993 “Beauty, in which we experience white light being refracted into its constituent colors and rainbows by fog.
A few of our personal highlights from his 30+ later works include:
- “The Seeing Space” which distorts images and forces you to look at people in new ways;
- “Your Blind Passages”, a heavily fog-shrouded, 39-meter corridor through which different color lights which affect not only your perspective of color but also of shapes as I, for one, found myself seeing fractal-like designs on the white ceiling;
- “Your Uncertain Color” a playful projection of visitor images that use different color lights to create overlapping images in different colors;
- “Your Spiral View”, a reflective, aluminum tunnel through which you walk to experience distorted views via hundreds of differently angled surfaces;
- “Big Bang Fountain” which uses a strobe to create a stop-action vision of a stream of water falling into a pool; and
- “A description of a Reflection” where he uses a series of mirrors to reflect light on a different surface.
The galleries end with examples of some of the artist’s work in other fields. “Little Suns” are small, inexpensive, solar-powered lights with which people in non-electricity-served villages can work and read without the need to burn polluting and health-damaging kerosene lamps. “Ice Watch” shows photos and videos of a previous Tate exhibition that allowed people to experience the melting of glaciers and icebergs. Meanwhile, videos explain the ways in which he exposes young people from emerging countries to art and his collaboration with architect Sebastian Behmann on a range of innovative, sustainable architectural projects.
The display concludes with “The Expanded Studio” which recreates one of his studio’s collaboration tools with a corkboard onto which Eliasson and other members of his team pin articles, images, observations and questions under keywords as a means of stimulating, out-of-the-box, multi-disciplinary ideas.
Overall, a fascinating and yes, perception-bending” experience.
Other Tate Modern Exhibits
We also visited dozens of the museum’s other exhibits. Among the more interesting were:
- Color Cycles, by Peter Sedgley, which explores colors and transitions via a projection of a circle of ever-changing colors in recurring patterns;
- In the Studio, which displays works of hundreds of well- and lesser-known artists grouped by the source of the artist’s inspiration including their studios and the objects in it (such as still lives), dreams (as in Surrealism), catastrophes (such as post-WWII’s birth of Expressionism), the “color” of white, complex patterns and geometric shapes, social causes (such as immigration and climate change) and other artists, such as the inspiration that Mark Rothko took from Matisse’s use of color). Among the many, many, very interesting expression of these forms of inspiration came in the form of the nine panels that Rothko originally designed for New York’s Four Seasons restaurant several of Gerhard Richter’s squeegee paintings, Anish Kapok’s exploration of light and shadow.
- Ed Ruscha. Although we have never been intrigued by many of his works we love his spot-on, 2017 representation of an American flag that is already tattered and is being ripped apart in real-time.
- Living City, a series of Naoya Hatakena’s photos of lights in a high-rise Tokyo;
- Media Networks, a display of works by dozens of artists that are intended to represent periods of rapid technological and societal change. Much of the exhibition, focuses on the impact of networks, communications, and mass media with many works representing the World Wide Web and social media, and a dated, but also Cildo Meireles’ still relevant cacophonous “Tower of Radios”. Works by Picasso and Art Deco artists represent the age of mass. Rapid transportation and Victor Pivovarev’s “Life in Communist Moscow Apartment in the 1950s” provides a particularly poignant representation of societal change. Other galleries express themes including consumerism (as via Pop Art) and feminism and media.
- Artists and Society provide different expressions of the artist’s role as observers, interpreters and in some cases, agents and provocateurs of societal and global change.
- Materials and Objects attempt to explain, via example, why and how artists employ different materials, from couscous grains to human hair and newsprint, and objects, such as Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and bicycle parts, in their works.
- The Tank, the section of the basement that used to house the power plant’s oil tanks, is now reserved for large-scale installations and especially, live performances and films.
And this does not even include some exhibits in which we had little interest or two special exhibits that we were not able to see, including Takis’s exploration of gravitational and electromagnetic forces or Natalia Goncharova’s pioneering Eastern European pieces.
Nor are all the works of modern art confined to the interior museum. Olafur Eliasson, as mentioned above, has positioned his “Waterfall” near the museum’s south entrance. Non-museum-affiliated modern pieces include the floating Ship of Tolerence, a shopping mall has a display of various size plastic bottles and jugs that have been “recycled” into fancifully-painted works of art and a street “artist” provided something of a preview of the Eliason’s perception shaping and light-refracting pieces with his giant soap bubbles.
Staying in Trafalgar Square, we were literally across the street from the National Gallery. Having an extra hour and a half before meeting friends, we took a quick spin, focusing primarily on its Impressionist Collection. As always, the building, especially the ceilings of the central halls and the mosaic floors, was almost as lovely as the art.
Adding to the fun—not to speak of the crowds—we visited on the day of the annual Japan Matsui Festival when the square was filled with Japanese food stands and elaborate entertainment on the main stage.
Given our late arrival and short stay, we were able to catch only one of the very few plays that were open on a Sunday night. We made it to the highly recommended, Tina—and we were glad we did.
- Tina—The Tina Turner Musical came highly recommended by friends. Since we love her music, we decided to go. The jukebox musical told her life (focusing on her difficult childhood, marriage to the abusive Ike Turner and struggles in establishing a career without her early mentor) in songs. The difficulties ended after the further struggle of getting her breakout hit, “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, recorded. After the initial finale and well-deserved, standing ovation, the star, with her incredible voice and vitality, continued with a few of the artist’s additional highly choreographed hits, inviting the audience to pitch in. A wonderful and ultimately uplifting show.
- Bentley’s Oyster Bar, a long-established seafood restaurant. We had a pleasant meal of lobster tempura (with Irish pickles) and one of the specialties: a very good poached dover sole with crab butter. Our wine was a French Chablis, Domaine Grand Roche 2017.
- Tate Museum Restaurant where Joyce ordered a diced, raw marinated tuna (with harissa, aubergine, crème fresh and cumin) and jasmine tea-brined organic chicken breast (with pea puree, shitake and king oyster mushrooms) from the two-course menu, where I had the five-course Olafur Eliasson Tasting menu of house-fermented sourdough (with labneh and rapeseed oil), baked beets (with goat cheese blackberries, apples and walnuts), smoked polenta, oyster mushrooms, tomato sauce and stracciatella, carrot and pumpkin cake (with sea buckthorn gel and sour cream) and blackcurrant jelly petite four (with salted curd cheese, orange and anise powder). The wine was a half-bottle of 2015 Rocca di Montegrossi Chianti Classico. (While both of Joyce’s dishes were delicious, mine were hit and miss with the beets, stracciatella and petite four being the highlights.
- Lahpet. We met some friends at this Shoreditch Burmese restaurant. While the tea leaf salad had way too much garlic for our taste, it was tasty. Better were the ginger salad, king prawn curry and the coconut noodles with chicken. Our wine was a Lois Gruner Veltliner.
- Walkers of Whitehall pub. We popped in here for a quick meal and were very disappointed. Our chicken and mushroom pie with green beans was not very good. But even worse was the beer-battered haddock with mushy peas and sweet potato fries (the fries were the most interesting part of the dish). We washed down the meal with a pleasant pint of Beavertown Neck Oil Session IPA and a glass of picpoul white wine.
While we were in the Shoreditch area, one of the city’s current hot neighborhoods, we went into the BeatBox entertainment complex. While it seemed to be especially popular with millennials, even us boomers enjoyed the activity, the casual atmosphere, and live music.