Monday, October 23, 2006

Swings and Roundabouts

Strange how things work out. In the 80s, the most famous ex-power station in London was the Battersea Power Station. An architectural icon visible across swathes of south west London, situated on the approaches to Victoria Station, and featured on the cover of a famous rock album, it was a building greatly loved by Londoners.

In the late 80s an attempt was made to transform it into a theme park. This failed - Battersea is the largest brick building in Europe, and the property crash destroyed the developer.

I’m sure I was not the only Londoner disappointed the Tate chose another, little-known power station off to the east to transform into Tate Modern. But in retrospect Nicholas Serota’s instincts were spot on: his station was a workable size in an area on the brink of massive revival and with good transport links.

The funny thing about Battersea is despite its central location it's actually quite tricky to get to.

Now another developer is having a go at Battersea. Everyone wishes him well; noone wants to see Battersea be demolished and it has been standing as a partial ruin for 20 years now.

But it is amusing how these things pan out. Tate Modern is a victim of its own success – a prisoner of its footfall and the massive and very difficult turbine hall. Each exhibit there has to surpass the last in spectacle and popularity – an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

One can view Carsten Höller’s slides installation as a final capitulation : come on, Art? – or Theme Park? You decide.

And just at this juncture, the gods of irony have disposed the Battersea Power Station to open to the public briefly with a high-minded exhibition organized by the Serpentine Art Gallery of contemporary Chinese Art.

It seems most visitors are attracted by the building itself (never before opened to the public). But still – Battersea finally does “Art” while Tate Modern becomes the “theme park”. Too amusing.

I have not yet been to Battersea, but hope to this week. Also, building up courage for those slides at the Tate. Will report on any aesthetic experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No matter which power station I visit, I still feel like a tourist.

I do agree with you, visiting both galleries within the space of a week, one feels like a wildlife park and the other like a zoo.

My next trip is to a london phone booth