Tate Modern and Shopping in Modern London

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Tate Modern, London, England

Today I had the true pleasure of seeing a complete set, for lack of a better phrase, of Rothko’s dimly lit 1959 Black on Maroon (5 pieces) and Red on Maroon (4 pieces) in the flesh at Tate Modern. As my eyes melted into the 9 canvasses, I asked myself why I connect with these so much? Why Rothko?

From what I remember from studying art history, and the handy information plaques in the museum, was that he was a stubborn, deliberate person. He seemed to be the ultimate advocate for the right setting of his art. That he wanted his work to be able to be viewed by all types of people. His work is spectacular. He was firm, talented yet inclusive? Oh I get why I like him.

The collages mentioned above were actually pulled from its original destination and was left in his control until the 1970s when Tate London received the collection (see image below, photographed on my iPhone at the Tate Modern, London). He was commissioned to paint a collection for the Four Seasons on Park Avenue, New York. After completing the work he realized the canvasses did not suit that location and declined the commission. His aesthetic had shifted. With this darker palette he wanted the viewer to become “completely absorbed” with the work and a posh, busy restaurant was not the location to have that experience with the art.

Photographed on my iPhone at the Tate Modern, London

After taking in the other exhibits I left the museum and hit the streets. Over the past few days I’ve walked the shopping areas of Bond, Carnaby, Knightsbridge, Marylebone, Oxford, Piccadilly, Regent, Savile Row, Shoreditch, and Sloane Square. More than I originally thought. Admittedly I am not (yet) well travelled but I certainly saw a difference in dress in London. From what I gathered so far is that people take good care of their clothes and put effort in. Clean and classic (collared shirts, suits, layered sweater, slacks, etc) bumps up against the stylish and overtly trendy (faux fur jackets, ankle boots, and other street wear). No matter the personal style the people on the street seem intentional about their dress.

It can’t hurt the cause that they have all the shops, department stores and brands you could dream of. They have massive amounts of people to buy as well. Nearly nine million residents and 200 million tourists yearly make up the market. As I walked the streets I could see tons of people toting a Burberry bag here, a Mulberry bags there… Goyard sprinkled in for good measure. The population density showcases the various brands and styles in such concentration.

Many high-end brands are obvious. That’s what the logos and distinct prints are for. They are obvious in other ways. No longer do you have to go to the boutique to get the looks. The boutiques are there, so is online shopping, but the department stores have really opened up the market to new shoppers. Department stores have made it easy to look, touch, and experience the brands up close with less pressure. My general rule is the better merchandised the store, the likelier it has the best of the best whittled down selection in brands. The great thing about department stores is that one can start slowly with a designer lipstick or beautiful briefcase chosen among many options. If you like a particular brand, you may start to seek them out at those boutiques. The choice is yours. While the department store is nothing new, it is certainly quite modern.

An art museum can be seen the same in many ways as a department store. It brings together work from many artists and is presented in groupings or collections that help the viewer engage or understand. You can seek out a brand or artist should you be interested but can sample many if that suits you best. The hot-selling items or most-viewed work gets a prime location. The people come, day after day, in masses to purchase or see what they are after. The visual, in-person experience, for many like me is truly a sensation and that’s why you go back again and again. Like a niche collection in the corner of a department store, free from other distractions, that small space where nine of Rothko’s pieces are displayed in harmony together is sensational. 

On the one hand, the volume of consumerism here in London, just like other mega cities, may be counter to what Rothko had in mind. On the other hand, the Tate Modern is free* to all guests, it’s full of young and old alike, and the museum doesn’t care what handbag you’re carrying. 

*Donations keep it accessible for all.