The Tate Modern is a large modern art museum that is housed in a former power station at the southern end of the Millennium Bridge. Exhibits are organised by theme, which sees works by famous artists such as Picasso go up alongside relatively unknown artists.
What to see at the Tate Modern
Tate Modern is one of the world’s largest museums devoted to modern and contemporary art, but it lacks the focus of some smaller art galleries that concentrate on a specific artist or artistic style.
The gallery is comprised of two main buildings, the seven-storey Boiler House and the 11-storey Blavatnik Building, both of which are connected by the massive Turbine Hall. The free displays from the Tate Modern’s permanent collection are located on levels two and four of the Boiler House and level zero, two, three and four of the Blavatnik Building.
The museum is organised according to theme as opposed to many other art galleries, which are traditionally organised either chronologically or by artist.
It is best to start at the Start Display on level two of the Boiler House. This display serves as an introduction to the free collection giving you background information on the best-known artworks from the Tate Modern’s collection. The Start Display features The Snail by Henri Matisse (1953) and Cossacks by Wassily Kandinsky (1910–1911).
Other works on level two include Water-Lilies by Claude Monet (1916), The Annunciation by René Magritte (1930), Autumnal Cannibalism by Salvador Dalí (1936), Lobster Telephone by Salvador Dalí (1936) and the Metamorphosis of Narcissus also by Salvador Dalí (1937).
Works on display on level four include Cadeau by Man Ray (1921), Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917), Babel by Cildo Meireles (2001) and Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol (1962).
The displays in the Blavatnik Building show how art has become more active since the 1960s. There are fewer exhibits in this building and those exhibits are less well known but they are larger, more interactive, exhibits that are still worth a look.
Level 10 of the Blavatnik Building is a viewing platform with fantastic views of the city.
In addition to its permanent collection, the Tate Modern also has a programme of temporary exhibitions, most of which have an admission fee.
Current and upcoming temporary exhibitions include:
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms
Infinity Mirror Rooms (until 30 September 2023) is one of Yayoi Kusama’s largest art installations, which is presented alongside Chandelier of Grief, a room of rotating crystal chandeliers. £10.
Bob and Roberta Smith: Thamesmead Codex
The Bob and Roberta Smith: Thamesmead Codex exhibition (until 29 October 2023) is a series of 24 painted placards that document the history and identity of Thamesmead, a new town in southeast London. The placards feature text and images that Smith collected from interviews with local residents, from some of its very first occupants to young people growing up during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography
A World in Common (until 14 January 2024) is an exhibition showcasing photography from throughout Africa, providing an insight into this diverse continent. The exhibition features the work of 36 contemporary African photographers and it explores the diverse ways in which African photographers are using the medium to document and interpret their own cultures and societies. The works on display range from traditional documentary photography to more experimental and conceptual work. £17.
Capturing the Moment
The Capturing the Moment exhibition (until 28 January 2024) showcases painting and photography from the 20th and 21st centuries with exhibits that highlight the influences that these two media have had on each other. £20.
This exhibition (5 October 2023–25 February 2024) features the work of American painter Philip Guston (1913–1980), one of the leading contemporary artists of the mid-20th century. The exhibition spans Guston’s entire career, from his early abstract paintings to his later figurative works and it features over 100 paintings, drawings, and sculptures, many of which have never been seen in the UK before.
The Yoko Ono exhibition (15 February–1 September 2024) spans Ono’s entire career, from her early conceptual art and performance pieces to her more recent music and activism.
The Expressionists exhibition (25 April–20 October 2024) is a major survey of the work of the Expressionist movement, which emerged in Germany in the early 20th century that explores the Expressionists’ use of bold colours, simplified forms, and expressive brushstrokes to convey subjective emotional responses to the world around them. The exhibition features over 130 works by some of the most important Expressionist artists, including Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
Zanele Muholi is a visual activist and self-described visual activist who uses photography to document and celebrate the lives of South Africa’s LGBTQIA+ community. This exhibition (6 June 2024–26 January 2025) features over 200 photographs from Muholi’s Faces and Phases series, which began in 2006 and documents the lives of black lesbians, transgender, and gender non-conforming individuals in South Africa. The series is a powerful and moving testament to the resilience and beauty of these communities. The exhibition also features works from Muholi’s other series, including Somnyama Ngonyama, which explores the representation of black bodies in South Africa, and Being, which documents same-sex couples in love.
The Anthony McCall exhibition (27 June 2024–27 April 2025) is a major retrospective of the work of the British artist Anthony McCall. The exhibition spans McCall’s entire career, from his early minimalist films to his more recent spatial drawings and installations.
Mike Kelley: Ghost and Spirit
The Ghost and Spirit exhibition (2 October 2024–9 March 2025) is a major retrospective of the work of the American artist Mike Kelley (1954–2012). The exhibition explores Kelley’s interest in the dark side of American culture, from his use of found objects and toys to his exploration of themes such as violence, childhood trauma, and the occult.
The Electric Dream exhibition (28 November 2024–1 June 2025) is a major survey of the work of early pioneers of optical, kinetic, programmed and digital art. The exhibition explores how artists in the late 20th century have used technology to create new and experimental forms of art, and how their work has influenced the development of contemporary art and design.
Visiting the Tate Modern
The Tate Modern is located in the Bankside neighbourhood on the south bank of the River Thames, just across the Millennium Bridge from the City of London. Blackfriars and Southwark are the closest tube stations (both around a 10-minute walk from the museum) although London Bridge, Mansion House and St Paul’s are also a short walk away. The Tate Modern is almost next door to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and less than a 15-minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Tate app features audio tours (available in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish) and also has floor plans to help you find your way around. The app is free on the App Store (for Apple iPhones) and the Google Play store (for Android phones).
There are also several free guided tours of parts of the Tate Modern collection. These depart Boiler House level two at 11am and noon, Blavatnik Building level two at 11.30am, Blavatnik Building level three at 12.30pm, Boiler House level four at 2pm and 3pm and Blavatnik Building level four at 2.30pm and 3.30pm.
The Tate Modern has several cafes, bars and restaurants. Many of these are near the main entrances on level one and there is also an espresso bar on level three of the Boiler House, a restaurant and bar on level six of the Boiler House, a restaurant on level nine of the Blavatnik Building and a cafe on level 10 of the Blavatnik Building. There are also exclusive members-only bars in both buildings that are reserved solely for Tate members.
Most visitors spend 1–2 hours at the Tate Modern.