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The Tanks: Performance Art space Tate Modern, London by Herzog & de Meuron.

The tanks entrance

Tomorrow history will be made when The Tanks officially opens at the Tate Modern in London. It will be the first dedicated space to performance art in the world. A new archetype is born!

When an artist's work appears in the Tate collection it usually signals that they are now taken seriously. With the provision of the performance art space, the suggestion is that performance art itself has come of age. That notion should amuse many artists, particularly performance artists, whose work is by nature transient, to learn of their new found status is accorded by virtue of the solidity of architecture! Lets now consider the archetype further.

The new archetype is in fact a re-appropriation of an old industrial archetype. The old oil storage tanks that have been converted to create the space, used to store fuel for the Bankside power station from which the Tate Modern was created. Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, argued that the use of the industrial spaces in this way was appropriate because performance artists liked old industrial spaces and were used to working in such places. Perhaps previously they did not have much choice?

But what if performance artists were used to playing in palaces? Would performance art spaces look like palaces? The answer to this is probably yes! When King Louis XIV “invented” ballet it was performed in his palaces, so it is no surprise that the first ballet spaces were “gilded palatial” in their style, and many still are!

The age-old difficulty of escaping the influence of relevant precedents when creating a new archetype is as pertinent as ever and has not been tackled with The Tanks. Sitting in an intellectual zone between the theatre and the white-walled gallery, what if started from a blank slate, would a performance art space be?

The answer to this question is an exciting architectural question yet to be answered.

The design of Tanks is the first completed stage in Herzog & de Meuron's grand extension of the Tate Modern.

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