Despite BP sponsorship, the Tate still do their PR very well. Tate boss Nicholas Serota could have been a politician as he clearly has all the requisite skills – and in many ways he has had to act like a politician as he’s massively expanded the Tate and built it into the world’s leading art brand. The new Tank galleries at Tate Modern were launched with press coverage of Serota praising non-doms (UK-based high earners who are not domiciled in the UK for tax purposes) for their contributions to London generally and Tate’s new extension in particular (see for example page 11 of The Evening Standard 16/07/12). This also served to underscore – - without anything being explicitly said – that the Tanks extension wasn’t sponsored by BP. It is a good example of the more public side of Serota’s Tate campaigning – but he and his organisation also work very hard to get London based artists onside with Tate.
You need to be visible in the London art world but you certainly don’t need to be a big name as an artist to get invited to Tate events – and you’re not only invited, you get emails telling you in effect that you’re valued and Tate really wants to see you at its openings. Since considerable effort is put into getting artists to Tate private views, their parties are way better than many of those I’ve been to at other big name modern art museums around the world (some of whom seem to specialise in pulling in crowds made up almost exclusively of really boring business sponsors).
At last night’s Tanks opening party there was a lot of free booze and a huge crowd. You couldn’t see everyone who was there but I did run into the likes of artists Elizabeth Price, Simon Bedwell and Ian White; curators such as Roger Malpert of the Hayward, Will Fowler who handles artist film for the BFI, Nicole Yip from Firstsite, and Teresa Gleadow; other people I spoke to included Pauline de Souza and Gavin Everall. However the party wasn’t all chat, there were also screenings, performances and DJs. The Tanks is an all concrete environment and looks really impressive architecturally – but as a dedicated live art space it also has some obvious limitations. The concrete floors looked like they were playing havoc with dancers’ joints and the acoustics were somewhat murky since the sound was just bouncing off everything in what felt like an echo chamber. This will no doubt either be sorted out in due course, or may not need to be depending on what type of live art the spaces are mostly used for; but if there is to be much dance a sprung wood floor would seem to be in order.
Perhaps more surprising for an organisation so good at branding was the signage. Tate on Tate signs is never ‘The Tate’ but simply ‘Tate’. The projected Tanks sign read ‘The Tanks’ with a ‘the’ in front of ‘Tanks’. Perhaps Tanks on its own doesn’t look so great – but Tate could have followed Marc Bolan’s lead in using the spelling “Tanx” (the title of Bolan’s 1973 T. Rex album). I’m sure the vast majority of the crowds flocking daily to Tate Modern won’t notice this small branding slippage – but you can also bet your bottom dollar it won’t escape the notice of those who make a close study of corporate image. That said, what probably matters more is that Tate is still very adept at throwing parties. I went intending to look at the architecture and to spend less than an hour at The Tanks launch – but it took me nearly three hours to drag myself away from my friends and the free bar….
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!