Wait till you see inside

At a cost of pounds 130m, what will the Bankside Tate have to offer when it opens in a year's time? Director Lars Nittve (above) gave Natasha Walter a sneak preview

The dark bulk of Bankside Power Station rears up into a clouded sky. In front, fork-lift trucks roll through the rubble. And in front of them stands Lars Nittve - an unassuming Swede in a grey double-breasted suit and striped shirt that make him look more like a banker or a lawyer than an artistic visionary - posing for a photograph.

Soon we are standing in the vast turbine hall of the power station. "Here, you will come in," says Nittve enthusiastically, "and after your 'Wow!' you can find out what is going on in the gallery, and here you will also have your first art experience, hopefully something grand and amazing." This is a great hollow space, 500 feet long and 100 feet high. At the moment, the smell of solvent hangs in the air; dusty shafts of light stream through high windows at either end, and the space hums with the roar and crash of building work. When it's finished it will still be a breathtakingly large hall, and even the most impressive sculptures of the Tate collection will look pretty dwarfed.

Nittve does his best to dispel my feeling that this ocean of space will overwhelm the art inside it. "I, too, was a bit personally worried," he says. "But I have been in discussion with artists about commissioning new work for this area, and they all say 'Fantastic'. We will not necessarily use only huge Richard Serra-type sculpture here, but also projections, or screens, and all sorts of other things. Many different artists have looked at this space. They are very diverse, but they are all very happy to address this space. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

As director of this brand new gallery, opening exactly one year from now, it is Nittve's job to sound upbeat and optimistic. This will be, it is devoutly hoped, the museum that will lay to rest for once and for all any suggestion that the British can't take their art seriously. For the past few decades, the British have looked to the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Centre Pompidou in Paris and have seen only a symbol of our own inability to keep up. It's interesting that we had to get a Swede in to do the job for us, but we shouldn't hold that against Nittve. He's an enthusiastic, clever man, and although he sometimes sounds more like a walking press release than the art critic he once was - well, how would you talk if you were overseeing a pounds 130m project in a foreign country?

We cross through the turbine room and into the boiler rooms, which will become the gallery spaces. The galleries will take up three of the seven levels here, and most of them will have some natural light pouring in through the sides or from above, thanks to a new glass roof on top of the power station. We struggle through rooms littered with plasterboard and at one point enter a gallery that looks almost finished, a double height room with one high, narrow window running floor to ceiling.

This room is already light and white, like the best galleries. To add to the effect, in the middle of the floor sits a set of steel boxes, while in one corner squats a giant piece of cobalt blue machinery. You wouldn't be surprised if they had tags on them saying Richard Wentworth: Divorce, or Carl Andre: Equivalent IX. "It looks like you've already started moving the exhibits in," I say to Nittve, and he giggles politely. What does he think will inhabit this room when the hanging starts? "The great thing about this room is its height. I would like to use the whole height. I think I would like to show a Joseph Beuys installation here - we have a fantastic one that we're never able to show. It is a cone made of cast mud that comes down from the ceiling."

The last part of the building that we visit is the glass box on the roof. This long, bright room will be a restaurant, and it has the most dazzling views on all sides, including the northern side of the Thames, with St Paul's sitting plumply in the middle of the city. "It's a fabulous location, incredible," says Nittve happily.

It's impossible for me to see exactly how this gallery will work - it's still only a building site inside. But the ambition and scale are certainly impressive. "I have been bringing many artists through to get reactions," says Nittve. "They have been very positive. One of the greatest enthusiasts has been David Hockney. Some people don't find the exterior very exciting, but when they come in they're converted." Back in his office, I see a computer-generated image of the building as it will look when it's finished. The glass roof, which will be lit at night, helps to lift its shape, and the eventual addition of the new pedestrian bridge that will link Bankside to the steps of St Paul's will open it out to the river and make the gallery seem less closed off from its surroundings.

And above all, Nittve wants this gallery to play to its surroundings. "It must feel rooted," he says. "You shouldn't come here and feel that you could be anywhere. You should feel that you are in England, in London, and in a very particular part of London. The key to this is the regular visitors. The community around must feel that it belongs to them." That means that some of the work that the gallery does will take place outside its walls; already it has set up exhibitions and events in the surrounding area, including a performance around a real wedding in Borough market. "We build galleries because artists have been doing art that is fit for museums," says Nittve thoughtfully. "But if artists are working out in society, then we must also follow them."

But the Bankside Tate will primarily be that good old-fashioned thing, a gallery with a large permanent collection. When Nittve took on this job, last September, he had been director of smaller - although highly regarded - museums in Sweden and then in Denmark. One of the great pleasures of this job, he says, has been to discover the strengths of the Tate's collection, most of which is never displayed. "I knew it was a fabulous collection, but I didn't know how good it really was. It doesn't hold to any particular idea of what modern art should be. It doesn't have that view of modern art that it is one linear story.

"But when you look at where art is going now, there are many things in the collection that make it possible to build up a continuum into the present. For instance, there is a wide range of key surrealist works - by Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and even some women surrealist artists. There are superb Marcel Duchamp works. To have The Large Glass is a major asset. Such things are key to understanding much of what is happening in contemporary art right now."

Sitting in his office, Nittve gets into his stride. "We want to rethink what a gallery of modern art should be in the 21st century. One of the ways to do that is to expand the narrow perspectives that many museums have. That definitely will include gender. It's so obvious that there's been a fairly unconscious but pretty amazing exclusion of women from the dominating art discourse. And we should like to show more from a wider range of countries."

A lot of criticism has recently been directed at the Tate, its director Nicholas Serota, his acquisitions and the Turner Prize for promulgating a narrow vision of contemporary art that privileges conceptual art over all other kinds. When I ask Nittve about it, he is either diplomatic or genuinely supportive of his boss. "For a start," he says, "it's pretty unclear in Britain what's meant by conceptual art. A lot of work that is called conceptual here is in fact pretty retinal - its effect relies on the way it looks, not on the ideas behind it. And I think one can say that what has happened in the past 10 years at the Tate under Nick Serota has made it one of the two or three major museums of modern art in the world. That's not my evaluation - that is an objective fact."

And does Nittve feel that the much hyped renaissance in British art has been a real phenomenon or a storm in a fur-lined teacup? "I think it's fantastic," he says stoutly. "Of course this Brit Art Movement, or the Young British Artists, was really an artificial label. There was this group of strong artists, but they were not that similar. And I think the scene has got even stronger, livelier and more energetic now this package is going away."

Nittve is sure that the British are now more than ready to throw off their traditional unease with visual art. "During most of the modern period, London was a bit on the periphery. There were many creative individuals, but most of the major movements developed in France, Germany, America. This has changed only in the past one or two decades. What made a difference was that wave of great British sculptors, like Woodrow and Kapoor and Cragg. With this gallery, at last we can really show British artists in depth. It will be an eye-opener for visitors. And of course British people are ready for this. After all, the attendance figures for the Tate Gallery at Millbank have more than doubled in the past 10 years. There are so many signs that the position of visual art in Britain has changed tremendously."

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee