On Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and 'The Unilever Series'


  • Wouter Davidts




Since the opening Tate Modern in 2000, the vast space of the Turbine Hall has hosted The Unilever Series. Widely acclaimed artists Louise Bourgeois, Juan Munõz, Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, Bruce Nauman, Rachel Whiteread, Carsten Höller and most lately Doris Salcedo accepted the invitation to ‘tackle’ what is arguably the biggest museum space in the world and realized what is invariably held to be their ‘biggest work ever.’

The Unilever Series is not the only large-scale installation series. In recent years, we witnessed the worldwide launch of ever-larger art commissions for increasingly vaster spaces, resulting in all the more colossal artworks. Only recently, Paris announced its own yearly art commission for the central nave of the Grand Palais, suitably entitled Monumenta.

The essay examines The Unilever Series in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, and discuss it within the global leap in scale and massive expansion of the art and museum world, of which the London institution and its vestibule in particular are the most blatant exponents. While it is certainly true that the spectacular expansion of art installations has occurred in tandem with a profusion of large international exhibitions and ‘destination’ museum of inordinately vast proportions, the assumption that large exhibition spaces demand an art of size is too simplistic. By examining the institutional, spatial and material disposition of the Turbine Hall, I will demonstrate that it is far more than a plain and abstract emblem of the global inflation and growth of museum and exhibition spaces. It’s a distinct architectural exponent of this tendency that essentially in and of itself has informed the inflation of the artworks that have been commissioned for it.

Author Biography

Wouter Davidts

Wouter Davidts (Antwerp) is engineer-architect and postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Architecture & Urban Planning of Ghent University (UGent). He teaches Architecture Theory at the Department of Architecture of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). In the Fall of 2006 he was a British Academy Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of ‘Bouwen voor de kunst? Museumarchitectuur van Centre Pompidou tot Tate Modern’ (A&S/books, 2006) and is currently working on a book-length project on size and scale in contemporary art and architecture. wouter.davidts@ugent.be