The Broader Picture: The new powerhouse of art

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The Independent Culture
FROM TEMPLE of power to temple of art in little more than a decade: Bankside power station, made more or less redundant in 1981, is about to be reborn. Last month the Trustees of the Tate Gallery announced that it is their choice for London's long-awaited museum of modern art. If funding goes ahead, it will house the Tate's collection of 20th-century international art and contemporary exhibitions. The Tate at Millbank will still show the gallery's historic collection of British art.

Bankside is one of the last works of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960), best known for such heroic works as Liverpool's Anglican cathedral, the Guinness Brewery at Park Royal, the GPO's red telephone kiosks and Battersea Power Station. The Tate considered Bankside's elder sibling for the new museum, but it was quickly dismissed as too big, too inaccessible and, sadly, in too ruinous a state. Initially, Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, was keen to build anew. But in Bankside he and his trustees found a vast amount of secure, seductive, beautifully built, well maintained and cheap space. It

offers room for ambitious installations and sculpture,

displays of video and computer art, and galleries devoted to photography, design and architecture; plus a cinema, lecture rooms, areas for performance art and studios for young artists to rent.

The great spaces of the turbine hall and boilerhouse are awe-inspiring. And in contrast to Battersea, Bankside is very much intact. Asbestos has been stripped from its walls and some of the machinery is getting rusty, but the building is being maintained - largely because its south side still incorporates three very active sub-stations feeding power to Southwark, Waterloo and the Elephant and Castle (these will stay put, whatever happens).

Whether Bankside goes ahead depends to a large extent on the recently appointed Millennium Commission. The government has promised money raised through the National Lottery which starts next spring for major cultural projects to celebrate the year 2000. The commission's job is to allocate the cash. If it decides not to stump up pounds 40m - half the cost of converting the power station - the Tate's projectn

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