Thursday, March 28, 2013

Visiting the Tate Modern

So, after getting the housing part settled at least for a little bit (still had some time before the movers were to come and everything would start being hectic in that way), we decided it was a good time to take a day and be tourists.

What did this translate to for our weekend? Going to the Tate Modern: one of London's biggest and most well-known museums. A museum of modern art. And free to the public (as many of their museums now are - there was a big push a few years ago to make this the case and something something, they won).

We hopped on a bus a few streets down and watched scenic London pass us by on our way there. We've decided that though my coworkers have said that the crowds on the buses may be a bit sketchier because the fare is cheaper, I dunno, we've come to like buses quite a bit. Yes, the crowd is more varied than what you would see on the underground, but really, if you score a seat on the second tier of a bus, the view really is lovely, and it's a great way to see the city. No one's bothered us in any sort of way so far, so I'm going to keep my mind open and say: buses are pretty awesome. They run pretty much everywhere, many of them 24 hours, and well...you get to see the city (instead of tunnels). I'm all for that.

Anyway, our stop let us off right in front of St. Paul's Cathedral. Unfortunately, it being a Sunday, it was closed for our viewing pleasure, but we did get to stare at its gorgeous exterior for awhile as we made our way to the Millennium Bridge.

You may recognize this bridge from the beginning of one of the Harry Potter films...a bunch of deatheaters rush past it in a whoosh of black smoke and the bridge snaps and collapses as people run terrified off of it. It's fabulous.


I did enjoy walking across this bridge but it was funny seeing it in real life. It was shorter than I would have thought, but other than that, pretty great. Beautiful work.

Right at the end of the Millennium Bridge is the Tate Modern, our museo du jour.

It's actually a factory building that's been refurbished to become its modern museum self, and it's surprisingly large (both on the inside and the outside). Oddly though, most of this space isn't being used to exhibit works...it's mostly empty space.

When you enter the museum the first thing you see is a cafe. To the left of that you find stairs/escalators to ascend/descend to a different floor. From there you then take a different escalator to actually get to the galleries. We weren't sure what the purpose of this was, but whoever did the floor planning of this museum should be fired. There were no easily coherent maps posted of the place (unless you wanted to pay the 1pound donation to get a map, which would have been fine but we weren't really interested in keeping a paper map after we were through...we donated money anyhow but didn't take a map).

Anyway, the works themselves were fine. The selection was varied and there was a range of paintings, sculpture, and other types of installation.

After walking around something became fairly obvious though: whoever curated the museum did a fine job (the works themselves were pretty great), however whoever did the information layout of the place should be fired. Whenever there were groups of paintings or works together, they would also put the information for these works together as well, but in no obvious formation that would let you know which information was for which work. This made you need to read or skim each of the papers to try to figure out the information for the work you were interested in, and hope you were reading the right one. It happened several times that I thought I had identified the right description for the work only to read the next one and realize that I had been mistaken. (Oh...that makes sense...*reads more*...oh damnit I was reading the wrong one! ~_~)

From a user experience design point of view, I would have definitely called the motion to fire this person. If it's unclear which information goes to what work, someone has failed. Utterly, utterly failed.

There was also the hilarious discussion amongst my family on the importance of modern art in general. As much as I love modern art (and I'd have to say I probably appreciated it the most out of our group of three), we did agree that some of these works were a bit...questionable. For example, someone in the 1970's attached a mirror to a piece of canvas and named it something. This was their "work." The information sheet attached with it (this one was in a row of works so we could actually identify that it went with it) had critics saying that it was a "bold move" and "really questioned our sense as viewers." Um...pretty sure we've all installed mirrors before. Bold move? I do this every time I move.

So I do see my parents' point that modern art really does have its limits. Especially when atonal music accompanies anything. Bleeps and blorps just make me want to giggle.

There was a great installation piece in this one room that had a little sign that said "One person at a time. Please queue. Do not touch." There was even one specific docent assigned to this piece to make sure people queued and did not touch. There were three telescope-like apparatuses set up and you got to look into each of them when it was your turn. A loud humming accompanied your viewing. What was inside you ask? Colored rings, sometimes with a number inside of them. That was it. Some of them were extremely blurry.

When my mom caught up with me after viewing this particular piece she snorted and we started laughing. I told my dad my theory about how some modern art installations are likely just social experiments to see how many people they could get to do what they say (i.e. for that piece, how many people could they get to actually queue up, one at a time, and then look into these silly machines). I've been in enough psych experiments to know...many things are not what they look like.

Anyway, the rest of our experience at the museum was similar. Some pieces were great and we saw the significance, others we sort of "hmmm hmmm"ed at and questioned who thought this was important. Basically my bottom line stayed the same: I'm sure you could write that anything is significant if you thought about it long enough. Everything is significant to someone, at some time.

And so we left after seeing everything (minus the seasonal exhibit on Lichtenstein, the artist, which you had to pay to get into). And were exhausted. Making fun of modern art is surprisingly tiring.

It was good to see the museum but I think it'll be awhile before I make it back there again. Did give me some great inspiration for my apartment though. I am guessing the British Museum will do the same thing (antiques and old things galore!).


(A photo of one of my favorite pieces from the day...just because).

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