Modern art finally comes of age for the masses

Barbara Amarteifio stared as a woman climbed the spiral staircase of Louise Bourgeois' sculpture I do, I undo, I redo. It was only a few minutes until she and her colleagues were due back at their office, but they were gripped by the expressions of the visitors who made it to the top.

"I came because I saw it on television, and because I work down the road, but I'm seriously impressed," Ms Amarteifio, 27, a finance project co-ordinator of south London said.

"At traditional exhibitions you walk around quietly, but this is noisy, lively. I like the interactivity of it. Everyone seems enthused."

Her colleague, Fraser Milne, agreed. He could have watched people going up and down all day. "I prefer it to the Dome... there you were indifferent to the exhibits. Here [he gestured at the giant spider behind him] you love it or you hate it."

After all the fanfare and hype of grand openings and celebrity-studded parties, yesterday the real test of Tate Modern began. Would the public want to go? Judging by yesterday's turn-out, it does.

In the Turbine Hall it was hard not to feel awed by the sheer variety and scale - not of the exhibits, but of the crowds of people who came through its doors. From 5am they had come, young, old, from south London and South-East Asia, squashed into pushchairs or clutching train tickets back to the Cotswolds.

By lunchtime some 6,000 were moving slowly but good-humouredly through the galleries, voices raised in distinctly unBritish animation, as staff, some still a little peaky from the previous night's celebrations, stood and handed out leaflets.

That night, Tate Modern had been filled with the movers and shakers of the art world, the exotically clad élite, all eager to be associated with the biggest artistic happening in decades. Yesterday, they came for purer reasons; not because they wanted a little of that glamour to rub off on them, not even to be first in (that award had gone to Andy Eathorne, a boat builder, with his pre-dawn backpack and Thermos), but because they were curious, and interested, and because there seems to be a popular view that modern art "is exciting".

Tate Modern has come to symbolise a renaissance among London's artistic institutions. With the National Portrait Gallery's new Ondaatje Wing, the National Maritime Museum's Neptune Court, and the revamped Guildhall Gallery and Courtauld Collection, as well as less cultural phenomena such as the already much-loved London Eye and even Mile End's Millennium Park, there seems to be a new determination to make the capital a worthy competitor to the delights of such cities as Paris and Barcelona.

Yesterday, in stark contrast to the bad-tempered queues that characterised the Dome's first few days, visitors did not seem to mind that it was too crowded to get a proper look at many exhibits.

They did not mind that they had to queue for the interactive sculptures. They did not even seem to mind that in order to get a drink from the café, they had to negotiate a queue that by lunchtime was almost 200 people long.

It might not have been much of a substitute for roast tomato soup and charred, cornfed chicken, but manager Duncan Ackery was working the queue, handing out cups of mineral water and charming the hungry. Tate Modern, he admitted, had been a little surprised by the number of visitors on its first day. "But the nice thing about working in a gallery is that people are in a good mood when they come," he said.

They were also a little taken aback in the gallery shop, where the payment system was spluttering under the numbers of customers clutching "Modern" mugs (£5) and Tate handbooks (£3.50), the day's biggest sellers. The discerning could also choose from Tate gingerbread biscuits, T-shirts or chocolate, all adorned with the distinctive Bankside silhouette. Budding Nicholas Serotas could even Make Their Own Tate Modern for a modest £4, some £134m less than the original. Everyone, it seemed, wanted proof that they had been there, seen that.

But away from the souvenirs and the "modern British menu", the real key to the gallery's future lies in its ability to bring modern art to the masses. And if 17-year-old Karen Hussey and Leighanne Yeoman, 19, of Nottingham, were anything to go by, this is where Tate Modern will triumph. The fact that it was free, they agreed, was crucial. But its beauty, they said, was that it does not intimidate.

"The entrance is really welcoming; you don't get smacked in the face by artworks straight away.

"It's not so daunting for people who don't understand it," said Ms Hussey.

Her father, an accountant with "little interest" in art, had watched the opening with her the previous night on television. "He thought it was really interesting. He liked the spider," she said. "I even think he'll come with me next time."

Ms Yeoman said: "I can't wait to see the Rothkos. I've been so excited all week. But the thing is, you don't need to be interested in art to come and like these things."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Reconciliation Analyst

£200 - £250 per day: Orgtel: Reconciliation Analyst Gloucestershire

Soutions Architect TOGAF - Reading

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Excellent Corporate Benefits: Progressive Recruitm...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on