Whither Tate Britain?

London is thriving, museum attendance is higher than ever.  Here are the numbers (visitors) for some of the main museums:

20142004
1British Museum6,695,2134,868,176+38%
2The National Gallery6,416,7244,959,946+29%
3Tate Modern5,785,4274,441,225+30%
4V&A South Kensington3,180,4502,010,825+58%
5Somerset House2,463,201n/a
6National Portrait Gal.2,062,5021,516,402+36%
7National Maritime Mus.1,516,2581,507,950+1%
8Tate Britain1,357,8781,733,120*-22%
9Imperial War Museum914,774754,597+21%
10Hampton Court Palace560,513498,278+12%
11Churchill War Rooms472,746306,059+54%

Source ALVA (* Tate number is for 2005, 2004 not given.)

William Hogarth 1697-1764

So what’s going on with poor old Tate Britain?  Its stunning collection of many of the best-known works from the greatest names in British painting—Hogarth, Turner, Blake, Constable—seems underplayed on the website, and yet this should put Tate Britain at the top of the list for the London visit of every British school child, foreign tourist, NADFAS day tripper or urban intellectual. And indeed shows on subjects such as the Pre-Raphaelites or Turner do well. The exhibitions with challenging themes maybe less so: irrespective of their quality, this may not be where Tate Britain’s competitive advantage lies?

And what about the legacy of its modern art mission, thoroughly eclipsed by the arrival of its altogether more modern—right down to the name—sibling, Tate Modern, in 2000?

All questions for the people who run ‘Tate’.  And very relevant now, as a replacement is sought for Tate Britain’s chief Penelope Curtis.  Hard decisions and major changes may be needed, but, asks Martin Oldham in Apollo Magazine, is her successor being handed a poisoned chalice (Tate Britain: A Poisoned Chalice)?

The new Blue Guide London covers all the museums in the table above, and many more, extensively. And all are listed in the older Blue Guides Museums and Galleries of London.

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