Looking back at the top 15 Tate Modern moments

14 May 2015
Reading Time
3 minute read

This week the most visited modern and contemporary art museum in the world celebrates its 15 year anniversary. After its transformation from derelict power station to beloved beacon of British culture, Tate Modern has defined a generation and helped open art to the everyman. Here, we look at some of the top moments over the last decade and a half at Britain’s leading arts institution.

1. Louise Bourgeois Maman, 2000

Commissioned for the opening of Tate Modern in May 2000, Bourgeois’ towering steel spider was the first of the Turbine Hall’s many iconic installations.


Louise Bourgeois: Maman

2. Warhol, 2002

The Tate’s first blockbuster exhibition saw 19 galleries filled with the Campbell’s soup cans, cola bottles and celebrities that made the Pope of Pop a household name.


Andy Warhol: Self-Portrait

3. Anish Kapoor Marsyas, 2002

Ten years before he designed the Orbit Tower for the 2012 London Olympics, Anish Kapoor installed an enormous red PVC trumpet in the 500ft-long, 100ft-high Turbine Hall that was impossible to view entirely from any one position.


Anish Kapoor: Marsyas

4. PJ Harvey, 2003

Rekindling the romance between art and rock music that faded out with the Velvet Underground, in 2003 Dorset’s queen of rock PJ Harvey played the Tate in a fringed white catsuit and filled the former power station with the sounds from her three-piece band.


PJ Harvey

5. Olafur Eliasson The Weather Project, 2003

The fourth in the annual Unilever Series of commissions saw the Danish artist bring the sky into the Tate replete with clouds and a vast, glowing sun that never set.


Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project

6. Rachel Whiteread Embankment, 2005

After becoming the first woman to win the Turner prize for her life-size cast of a condemned east London house, Rachel Whiteread turned her interest in empty space into stacks of 14,000 polyethylene casts of empty boxes that reached 12 metres tall at the highest point.


Rachel Whiteread: Embankment

7. Doris Salcedo Shibboleth, 2007

Also known as The Crack, Salcedo’s commission was the first work to directly affect the structure of the Tate with a great chasm stretching the length of the Turbine Hall, the scar of which can still be seen.


Doris Salcedo: Shibboleth

8. Rothko, 2008

This retrospective of one the world’s most-loved painters was the first significant showcase of his work in the UK for over 20 years, with all 15 of his brooding Seagram murals finally reunited.


Mark Rothko: Seagram murals

9. Street Art, 2008

When Tate Modern allowed six international artists inspired by urbanism to use the Bankside building’s iconic river facade as a canvas, it became the first ever museum display of street art in London.


Tate Modern: Street Art

10. Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds, 2010

In 2010 China’s reigning conceptual artist and social activist covered the industrial space in a blanket of millions of hand-painted, porcelain sunflower seeds that challenge what you see and what it means.


Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds

11. Michael Clark Company th, 2010-2011

Dance and art have long been bedfellows, but when bad boy of British dance Michael Clark and his company took over the Turbine Hall, rehearsing for all to see and inviting 100 volunteers to dance in a synchronised piece in 2010, and again in 2011, he set the bar even higher.


Michael Clark Company: th

12. Yayoi Kusama, 2012

The eccentric Japanese artist best known for her obsession with dots staged one of the brightest, boldest exhibitions Tate has ever seen, with works like her Infinity Mirrored Room carrying something of a supernatural effect.


Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life

13. The Tanks, 2012

Tate Modern remade its industrialist underbelly by turning the dramatic oil tanks into the UK’s first gallery spaces dedicated to performance and installation art. The Tanks were unveiled on 18 July 2012 with Art in Action, a 15-week festival of performance and events.


Tate Modern: The Tanks

14. Cy Twombly Bacchus paintings, 2014

In a gift that rivalled Rothko’s Seagram murals in 1969, Twombly recovered all three of his striking Bacchus paintings and left them to Tate Modern after seeing the trio all hanging together at his 2008 retrospective.


Cy Twombly: Untitled (Bacchus)

15. Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, 2014

Some things get better with age, and last year’s beautiful exhibition of Matisse cut-outs was the Tate’s most successful exhibition ever, breaking all previous records and averaging 3,907 visitors every day between April and September.


Henri Matisse: The Sheaf

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Alexander Hawkins

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