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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas