Black-market tickets to the Tate's opening change hands for £1,000

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The Independent Online

Tonight will see the start of the biggest series of parties the British art world has ever seen. And so fierce has competition become for tickets to the opening of Tate Modern that a black market has sprung up.

The most common topic of conversation in the London art scene is rapidly switching from: "Have you got yours?" to "Have you sold yours?" Tickets for the coveted 11 May private view, expected to be attended by the likes of Madonna, Yoko Ono and Mick Jagger are apparently being offered for between £700 and £1,000 each.

One possessor of two such tickets was reported to have attempted to sell them at the Saatchi Gallery for £700 each. Unfortunately, they attempted to sell them to an employee of the Tate, who said later: "They're probably worth even more than that now."

At the launch of the new Film Council at the Langham Hilton yesterday a senior figure in the arts talked of tickets being offered for £1,000.

The Tate Gallery takes a disapproving view of such negotiations. A spokesman said that all invitations to the 11 May gala party held the name of the invitee.

"Ordinarily the people who've been invited to such occasions will be known by Tate staff," he said. "They're personalised so we've taken steps to make sure that sort of thing doesn't happen."

But with some 4,000 guests expected and no identification required, he acknowledged that it was unlikely that this would prove too demanding a security check.

"We're used to holding big parties. The Turner Prize dinner always generates a lot of interest. But this is such a hugely significant event, there's nothing like it. It's a very hot ticket."

Yesterday the Tate's press office was still being deluged by callers desperate to get a late ticket by less expensive means. While the Tate declined to comment on whether they were actually begging, it did say that there were a "broad range" of people and that the number of calls remained "consistent".

Despite the feverish competition for 11 May, the most exclusive event is at 7pm tonight, when 250 people will meet for a private view followed by a champagne dinner in the Turbine Hall. These will be the most important guests - the benefactors, including bodies such as the Millennium Commission, the Arts Council, and many corporate heads.

Niall Fitzgerald, the head of Unilever, will host a dinner tomorrow to celebrate his company's commissioning of a work every year for five years, at £1.25m a time. The following night the Prudential will give a party.

The old Tate building in Millbank, relaunched as Tate Britain, will hold a reception for international guests on 10 May.