Tate Modern - Louise Bourgeois' Giant Spider - Nicholas Serota
Jacques Herzog - Pierre de Meuron - Millennium Bridge - Norman Foster

Verinha Ottoni Gallery - Abdias Nascimento - Altan - Antonio Dias - Mario Cravo
Roberto Magalhaes - Rubens Gerchman - Vergara - Giorgio Poppi - Federica Berlingieri
Nonino grappa

I may sound disgustingly arrogant but I have been to the New York Museum of Modern Art, MOMA (undergoing expansion at the moment, to the Musee de l'Art Moderne de Paris (, the German Museum fur Kunst Moderne, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Bilbao Guggenheim (, etc. Therefore, I was terribly excited to go to the opening day of the Tate Modern. The public was queuing from 5am. It was a very long queue, as everyone wanted to be the first. The first few arrivals received a commemorative book about the building, and a welcome from the Director Nicholas Serota. I had followed the Channel 4 series about the new Tate from the beginning. It was built in 1950 by Giles Gilbert Scott, architect (better know for his cathedrals including Liverpool and the red telephone box amongst others) the Bankside Power Station, opened in 1962 by the Queen. This building, in fact, reminds one of a cathedral with a long nave. When the Chairman of the Tate Trustees gave his speech at the opening of the Tate Modern he explained to us what this huge building had been before and - in his words - what it will be for the future, " In 1962 when you last visited this building it was a great oil-fired power station giving power to Southwark and light to London. Now, in its new guise, it will generate no less power, energy, light and electricity than the old one". These words were in fact said whilst the Queen officially opened the building on 11 May.

Nicholas Serota said, "This is a great day for the visual arts of this country and for European culture. We are here to open a great building which will endure and serve for generations to come". The Queen - probably the nation's most prodigious art collector - then pressed a Button lifting a canopy to reveal an inaugural etched glass plaque. It cost £134 million. Funds were raised by Sir Nicholas Serota (who was rewarded with a knighthood for this project), various sponsors, the Lottery donated £56 million, the Government gave £5 million to keep it free for the public and various other donors who donated exhibits.

It reminds me of the old railway terminus in Paris which was converted to the Musee D'Orsay; likewise, the old power station, although converted into a modern museum, retains some of its history for future generations. I find it fascinating the way in which the old is converted to the new. The entire process of transformation was shown in the Channel 4 series and two photographers, Christine Sullivan and Richard Glover, were given unlimited access to the building to record its gradual metamorphosis into the modern building it is now.

The Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (, won the competition to convert Bankside Art Deco Power Station, because they were cheaper but mainly because they proposed to keep the structure of the old building, which others architects wanted to knock down. They have kept the original chimney but complemented it with an indoor fireplace. They have added two extra glass floors on top of the original building. The huge windows give a spectacular panoramic view of London. The top floor houses a restaurant from which can be seen St Paul's, Blackfriars Bridge, famous to the Italians for the suicide of financier, Roberto Calvi. Also can be seen the Millennium Bridge (partly constructed) which will be a pedestrian bridge, designed by Norman Foster and will have four Anthony Caro sculptures on the north bank. Although no one can cross it at the moment the Queen has already opened it, but it will be open to the public in July. It will link St Paul's Cathedral to the Tate Modern Art Gallery ( (

The galleries themselves are very simple, painted white, in order that the public are not distracted from the works on display. The lighting - long rectangular white picturebox on the ceiling - gives the impression of daylight. The large windows reflect the light inwards. The floor is of unvarnished oak wood; I saw the cleaner take the first bit of chewing gum from the wooden floor! The works are not chronologically displayed but by themes. These are Landscape, Still Life, Nude/Action/Body and History/Memory/Society. The 'Hard Place' exhibition area which alternates as a cinema charges an entry fee but the rest is free. This latter area will have a change of exhibition every six months. Works of Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Braque, Bacon, Duchamp, of course, Kandinsky, Lichtenstein, Magritte, Modigliani, Warhol, Rothko, Pollock, Dali The Tate now comprises Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. The Director of Tate Modern is Lars Nittve (since 1998). He is a 46-years old Swede, formerly Director of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen, before he joined the Tate. He seems to favour a mixed exhibition rather than one in chronological order.I personally am not sure if it will work, particularly the mixing of periods. I liked the turbine hall showing the big spider pregnant with eggs, by Louise Bourgeois, 88 years old, and the fabulous spiral staircases with giant shaving mirrors on top. If you are an exhibitionist, you can queue to go up the spiral staircase and show yourself in one of these giant mirrors - like me!

Everything in the building is contemporary art: works of art, the lighting, also the public seating, which is so very beautiful that it could be mistaken for exhibits.

They have a lovely souvenir shop with postcards, books, t-shirts featuring a picture of the building and pen/pencil holders in the shape of the power station. They have coffee tables along the balconies with art books chained. There are several coffee bars and a restaurant and a special Members' Room with its views of the Big Ben and the London Eye, etc.

In the evening - after the official opening by the Queen - there was a party for 4.000 guests. They had 2.500 bottles of £30 non-vintage champagne being drunk by celebrities who fancied they were artworks themselves. Among the celebrities were politicians, media stars and people such Tony Blair, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and daughter Stella, Yoko Ono, Damon Hill, Jerry Hall, Lloyd-Webber, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, Tracey Emin (she of the "Unmade Bed" fame!), etc. The champagne was courtesy of Nicolas Feuillate, the 70-years old Parisian magnate. M.Feuillatte, who sponsored the Pompidou Centre in Paris, has pledged thousands of cases of his own wine for a series of dinners and parties at Tate Britain and Tate Modern). Music was composed for the event especially by Sir Harrison Birtwistle who wrote a fanfare, Seventeen Tate Riffs, played by a trio from the London Sinfonietta. There was also a performance by the Ballet Frankfurt. As the event ended the guests moved outside to watch a laser show light, with beams playing across the exterior of the building: a wonderful kaleidoscope of green, pink, orange, blue, etc.

The gallery assistants - specially trained - are local people, formerly unemployed. This has helped to provide work for people in this formerly run-down area that now houses also the Globe Theatre, a real regeneration of the entire area.

I went up the escalator and visited the galleries that display the family names of the donors. I decide to give myself a cultural status - maybe even a Damehood (Dame Vera I now wish to be know as) and donate my private collection to the Tate Modern. With Abdias do Nascimento I worked with O Teatro Experimental do Negro, against the Apartheid, and even did a poetry with him in a theatre in Ipanema, RJ, which was unforgettable experience, and I helped him with O Museu do Negro. I love his work of art mainly African-Brazilian Culture, his colourful work of art will make a wonderful display on the wall of the turbine hall, which is empty at the moment. Heloisa Novaes ( I have 3 Altan - we have been friends for more than 30 years - and every time I change husbands and lose the house, Mara and Checco Altan are there to support me. They are wonderful friends. Years ago I was invited to a lunch at a house of a friend of theirs (Nonino's house) who produce the best grappa in the world. All the guests - wine-growers - brought along their best bottles in order to compete with each other, (not the bottles they sell to the public!) Mara told me to be careful but I mixed all the wines and the grappa. Consequently, I had the biggest "booze-up" of my life!

I was in the Altan's house in Rio de Janeiro in 1971 when their beautiful daughter was born.

I also have two Giorgio Poppi, a Federica Berlingieri, (, one Mario Cravo sculpture, given to me during one of my visits to his atelier, in Salvador Bahia, and I have one Roberto Magalhaes; was given to us when my daughter Francesca was born. Roberto was married at the time to Andrea Sigaud; (we had a memorable time in London in the 60's, in King's Road and Soho). I spoke to her at Easter about Roberto’s 60th birthday and the wonderful cake she made for him, and 150 people at the exhibition's vernissage in Rio de Janeiro (Andrea and I are neighbours in Rio). The exhibition featured four Brazilian artists – Roberto Magalhaes, Vergara, Rubens Gerchman (I have one), and Antonio Dias, I saw Dias' daughter Rarinha grow up in Milan and was a guest in his house there for many years. My friendship with Rosangela Simoes and Patricia Saldanha Marinho began in his house, and I meet Marisa Monte and her sister there. At that time, Marisa wanted to be an opera singer and today, indeed, is a very famous singer in Brazil.

So, I think the Tate Modern is lack of Brazilian modern art! They would only benefit from receiving my collection, and the sponsor for the 'premiere' opening of "Dame Verinha Ottoni Gallery" will be Nonino grappa!

Verinha Ottoni.


Copyrights @ Verinha Ottoni. All rights reserved