Beyond the limits of canvas at Tate Modem

Share
Related Topics

The Queen will be opening the Tate Modem next week, the most up-to-date art gallery in Britain and probably the world. The Tate Modem is so called because it is the first online art gallery in the world. All its works of art are stored in a computer, and to access them a "visitor" has to get through on the internet via a modem.

"This is the most exciting new national art gallery for many a long year," says the Tate Modem's director, Frank Marsden. "For a start, you don't have to go to some ghastly big city such as London to get to it. For another thing, you don't have to go to Salford or Walsall or any of those ghastly places up north to get to it. For a third thing, you don't have to go anywhere to get to it - you just have to be at home. All you have to do is log on, click on the picture you want to see, and hey, presto!"

But is looking at a painting on a screen the same experience as looking at it on a canvas?

"Excuse me," says Frank Marsden, reprovingly. "I thought we'd heard the last of that tired old argument. If pictures don't look good on the screen, why does TV put out series after series on famous paintings? Would you rather get a glimpse of a Monet painting sideways-on over 10 pairs of shoulders, or would you rather have it all to yourself on a screen? In a gallery there is only one way of making a painting look smaller or larger, and that is walking nearer to it or farther from it. With the Tate Modem you can click to get nearer or further; you can zoom in on certain parts of the painting; you can turn it upside down or change the colour if you like."

Change the colour?

"Certainly. If you want to see what Van Gogh's sunflowers would look like in purple, you just change it on the screen. You can't do that in real life. Real life is so limiting. Oil paint and canvas are very unforgiving."

Yes, but...

"But nothing. It's like going to a football match. When you're used to seeing football on TV, with close-ups, instant replays of goals, slow-motion replays of controversial moments, and shots of Alex Ferguson getting so emotional that he stops chewing gum for a second, then it comes as a hell of a shock to go to a real match. You can't see much, you miss most of what you can see, and they never do any instant replays. Live football is a wretched substitute for TV football. I believe that art on a screen has come of age with the Tate Modem, and will soon leave poor old draughty, badly hung, badly lit real-life art far behind."

One of the great advantages of being on line to the Tate Modem is that you can now hang a monitor on the wall, or place it on a table, and call up any picture you like, so that you might have a Constable on display one day, and switch to a Magritte the next. But the most controversial feature of the new Tate Modem is the virtual art room, which brings us paintings that were never painted.

"I won't explain how the software works," says Marsden, "because you won't understand it any more than I do, but the idea is that if, for instance, you wanted to know how Van Gogh would have painted a seascape instead of the same dreary old sunflower fields, you can ask the Tate Modem computer to use its Van Gogh memory data to create a completely new Van Gogh painting. Bingo! A brand new classic! And one that exists only online and not as a canvas. No copyright problems there."

Does Marsden have copyright problems with real paintings, though? Has he been impeded by Bill Gates's urge to acquire reproduction rights to so many famous images?

Marsden smiles mischievously.

"Let's just say that what Bill Gates has can easily be hacked into by an art-lover. He'd be surprised how many of the paintings in our collection he would recognise."

Is Marsden not afraid of legal action by Gates?

"Microsoft has got enough on its plate with the US government trying to carve it up without worrying about little pipsqueaks like us."

The Tate Modem is housed in an industrial unit on the edge of Swindon. You cannot visit it physically, and even if you work there, you don't go there. When the Queen opens it next week, she will be doing it from Buckingham Palace. Truly, art has taken its first major step into the 21st century.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform