Past Institution’s Future: Monographic Exhibitions and Tate Modern’s Make-up
Independent Art Historian and Curator and Adjunct Faculty, International Hellenic University and Hellenic Open University
Μonographic exhibitions have long been firm favourites of modern and contemporary art museums, both for collection and temporary shows. Presented either as retrospectives, or as explorations of a particularly interesting point in an artist’s development, monographic exhibitions are nowadays widely accepted as an established practice. They are considered as an exhibition format that, on the one hand provides an opportunity for in-depth research into an artist’s career and the production of corollary monographic catalogues, and on the other hand for the comprehensive understanding and enjoyment of an artist’s work through a focused and coherent exhibition by a wide public.
However, little consideration has been given on the institutional reasons behind the occurrence of monographic exhibitions. This paper proposes to take an in-depth look through an institutional case-study into the role that monographic exhibitions, both historical and contemporary, acquired in the drawing-up of the Tate Modern exhibitions policy from 1994 through to its opening in 2000, and the first years that followed it. Material drawn from research in the Tate Archives, mission statements, communication production and online presence, set against a backdrop of the then burgeoning theoretical exhibitions literature, will be utilized to demonstrate the particular position that the monographic exhibitions held in the programming and of London’s new branch of a flagship art institution. The paper will examine direct and oblique links between monographic exhibitions and notions of the ‘genius artist’/’leader of pivotal artistic movement’, a need for attraction of large audiences, and city-imaging agendas. It will, thus, aim to highlight the relevance that monographic exhibitions may acquire in research that extends beyond canonical art historical approaches and considers them in relation to a host of institutional, social and financial factors in the contemporary world, especially in the case of historically important institutions mutating into 21st century cultural beacons.