Oak floors 'damaging art' at Tate Modern across three columns

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The critically acclaimed Tate Modern art gallery was embroiled in a row yesterday when art conservationists claimed that its stylish untreated wooden floors could prove damaging to the exhibits.

The critically acclaimed Tate Modern art gallery was embroiled in a row yesterday when art conservationists claimed that its stylish untreated wooden floors could prove damaging to the exhibits.

The claims, denied by the gallery in central London, came after revelations that the Tate's flooring contractors had warned those in charge of the consequences of using untreated oak. Conservationists and critics lined up yesterday to claim that the floors could create acidic oak dust, one of the most corrosive forms of indoor pollution, and possibly damage some metals and ceramics.

But the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who remodelled the interior as part of the £134m redevelopment of the former Bankside power station, apparently insisted on untreated oak to "give unexpected sensuality to the rooms".

Brian Sewell, art critic of the London Evening Standard newspaper, one of those who attacked the decision, said the use of the untreated wood had been "absolute madness".

"You only have to look at the amount of dirt and mess generated by hundreds of thousands of people to realise just how much damage can be caused. The flooring shows all the signs of the dirt that is going in and that is bound to rise up as dust which will cause damage."

Other critics included Sharon Monitta, a textile conservator and member of the UK Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, who said the floors should have been sealed.

But Tate Modern yesterday denied the claims, which they described as "mischief-making", saying that they were irrelevant in such an open and well-ventilated space.

"It just isn't an issue. It's only an issue if you use oak in a confined space. We would never use it for a display cabinet, for example," a spokeswoman said. She said the galleries were regularly cleaned, to ensure that dust was dealt with swiftly.

"Obviously, when the gallery was in development a huge amount of study was made of all these possible issues... and it was decided that those concerns simply weren't applicable in this case," the spokeswoman said.

She added that the galleries were constantly monitored by conservators to ensure the continued well-being of the exhibits.

One conservation expert, who declined to be named, said that the oak floors were less likely to cause damage than the humidity caused by thousands of visitors in close proximity. "Then of course you have got plastics which give off gases, and air pollution from traffic - nearly everything damages artworks in the end," he said.

Tate Modern, sister to the Tate Gallery, has been a huge success - and one of the few millennium projects, up to now at least, not to have suffered public teething problems.

Since it opened in May more than two million people have visited, with some 20,000 visitors daily.

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