LONDON (Reuters) - Out go the themed rooms and groupings of artists at London’s Tate Britain gallery, and in comes a pure, sunlit, chronological walk through British art from 1540 to the present.
The world’s leading collection of British paintings and sculpture on Monday threw open a permanent gallery so radically refurbished and reorganized that every one of the 500-odd works on display had to be rehung.
“What I wanted to try and do was to have a complete chronology that wouldn’t be interrupted by exhibitions,” said Director Penelope Curtis.
She denied that the Tate was “dumbing down” for the average tourist, saying the layout offered better access to everyone from school children to art experts, put works in context with their contemporaries, and would be uncompromised by temporary shows.
The “BP Walk through British Art” winds around the perimeter of the building, beginning in 1540 with portraits by the likes of Hans Holbein and Anthony van Dyck, then sailing through the centuries right up to 2013 Turner Prize nominee Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
Along the way, it hits the highlights from Thomas Gainsborough in the 18th century to the 19th-century rivalry of John Constable and JMW Turner, and the giants of the late 20th century such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud - both of whom appear in the 1940s gallery and again in the 70s and 80s.
A glass box with a desk and an overflowing ash tray by the former bad boy of British art Damien Hirst is one centerpiece of the 1990s.
Sculpture barely figures until after the Tate first opened in 1897. But it becomes a commanding presence during the years around World War Two with bronze, wood and alabaster sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Jacob Epstein.
Epstein’s massive alabaster work “Jacob and the Angel”, depicting the biblical combat recounted in the book of Genesis, dominates one room of the 1940s era.
It is these galleries that show off the Tate’s structural improvements - not only strengthened floors designed to hold big sculptures but, above all, special glass and blinds to let in daylight without the damaging effect of direct sunshine.
“Until night, or winter, we will rely completely on daylight,” said Head of Display Chris Stephens.
Each grouping of rooms is laid out with the decade stenciled in gold lettering at the entrance.
The exhibition departs from strict chronology only where large collections of individual artists’ works - Turner, Constable, Moore and William Blake - command their own “spotlight” sections inside the perimeter. More space towards the center of the building will be reserved for temporary shows.
The trickiest aspect of the chronological layout was the curation of living artists in the galleries devoted to more recent years, Curtis said.
“If you do that with living artists, it’s more of a challenge - because they will come and see it and they might not like it.”
Editing by Kevin Liffey