David Lister: The Week in Arts

Now the Tate can stop moaning about money
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The Independent Online

I don't wish to be a party pooper. And I certainly don't wish to rain on Sir Nicholas Serota's parade. He and the Tate, which he heads, have had a terrific week. Tate Modern is to receive 50m of government money towards a spectacular-looking extension which will enable a number of great art works to be taken out of storage and put on display, and will in the words of Sir Nicholas's press release, maintain the institution's place as "the most popular museum of modern art in the world", and enhance the "cultural quarter" in that part of London.

Well, as I say, I don't wish to sound negative about what is a wonderful piece of news about a truly great institution. But there are a few caveats that I would raise. Two are perhaps small ones, but important to visitors to the gallery. The third touches on a far larger issue of policy.

First car parks. At Tate Modern there ain't any. In fact, the most visited modern art museum in the world, attracting five million people a year, has about a dozen parking spaces outside and round the corner, which rather beggars belief. I hope that a little of the 50m might go towards recognising the existence of the motor car and building a car park. But there was no mention of that this week.

Second, getting to the building. While the walk from St Paul's across the Millennium Bridge is delightful, the walk from Southwark station, for those arriving by public transport, is unpleasant and feels a little unsafe. Is any of the 50m going towards improving that?

I should add in passing that I'm not yet totally persuaded by this term "cultural quarter". It has been much used by arts administrators since the establishment of Shakespeare's Globe and Tate Modern in close proximity. But I have never yet heard a member of the public use the phrase.

The bigger point, though, concerns the art being brought up from storage, including works by Hirst, Rothko and Viola. Now, for many years the heads of our main art galleries, Sir Nicholas Serota chief among them, have complained about the paucity of their purchase grants to buy new works of art and called on governments to make hefty increases in these grants.

I have never been convinced by this, as even a 200 per cent increase would not enable British galleries to compete for the real treasures on the crazed international art market. I have always argued that institutions such as the Tate could achieve just as much by bringing more art works out of storage and rotating them in their displays. At present only 40 per cent of the Tate's collection is currently shown.

As Sir Nicholas says this week, this will now certainly be happening at Tate Modern thanks to the new extension, and, as he also says, it will maintain its position as the most popular and best-visited gallery of modern art in the world. So, why the annual plea for bigger purchase grants and the perennial lament that British art galleries cannot survive and compete without massive increases in grants?

This week's initiative and the on-the-record acknowledgement that we have and will continue to have the most popular modern art gallery in the world ought to put an end to that hardy annual. The prospect of an extension increasing the gallery's size by 60 per cent, and that new space being filled by some of the Tate's unseen modern masterpieces, is hugely exciting. Throw in a little thought for visitors' travel arrangements, and we will truly have the best modern art gallery in the world.

So what do you do, dear?

The well-known American actress Joan Allen, pictured, who plays Pamela Lundy in The Bourne Ultimatum, revealed this week that the film's star, Matt Damon, brought his mother over to meet her, only for Mrs Damon to ask Ms Allen: "Hi, and what do you do?" An embarrassed Matt Damon said: "Mom, she plays Pamela Lundy!"

I find the incident refreshing, first because it's quite sweet that a sex symbol such as Damon brings his mother to meet his co-stars; and second because Mrs Damon extricated herself from an embarrassing situation with great skill. Apparently she said to Ms Allen: "You project in life such a different vibe than Pamela Lundy, and you didn't even look the same to me!"

I shall make a point of remembering that line. The next time I meet an actress and forget what I saw her in, I shall be sure to say: "You project in life such a different vibe." Though I suspect it works only if you are related to Matt Damon.

* The estimable Nicholas de Jongh, theatre critic of the London Evening Standard, is nothing if not prolific. As well as writing his daily review, he has written a tome on theatre censorship, has just completed a play, and still finds time to terrify hapless PRs who seat him in the wrong part of the stalls.

His new play on anti-gay witch-hunts in Britain will be on at the Finborough theatre in London next February. But it has managed to cause a stir even before being staged. He was in negotiations for it to be published by leading play publishers Oberon Books, when they told him they could not do so as the playwrights they publish would feel "uncomfortable" at having a critic among their number. What delicate flowers today's playwrights must be. I hope the lively correspondence between de Jongh and Oberon features in the next edition of his book on theatre censorship.