ARTIST ROOMS at Tate Modern, London, is an inspirational collection of international contemporary art acquired for the nation by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate through the generosity of Anthony d’Offay. Aesthetica catches up with the art dealer, curator and collector about the project.
“I think we have a winner here,” says Anthony d’Offay, a gentle smile spreading across his face, as he speaks about the opening of the latest installment of his ARTIST ROOMS project, which opened on 17 June at the all-new Switch House building of the Tate Modern. He expects visitors’ experience to be nothing short of revelatory, looking at the approximately forty works of Louise Bourgeois sculpture, drawings, installations, and one painting, a 1947 self-portrait that will greet attendees at the entrance.
“The wonderful thing about Bourgeois, and about all great artists, is that the more you look, the more you discover their greatness,” he explains patiently. “In fact, I never knew she was such a great artist until I saw the 2007 exhibition at the Tate, organized by Frances Morris. I realized then that what I’d been missing was a colossally important artist, and moreover a wonderful human being.”
That a seasoned veteran of the art world like d’Offay can confess to having missed something won’t surprise anyone who has met the man; he relates with quiet modesty all that has led to this moment. Characteristically, he deflects the emphasis away from himself, onto the art, and on to the children of Great Britain.
“I realised there was a problem, that trains are expensive in this country, so if you’re not nearby London, or, say, Liverpool, how do you get to see great art? If you’re seven, or fourteen, and living in the Hebrides, you have no opportunity to do so. So the solution seemed simple; we’re bringing the art to them.”
Such was the thinking that led in 2008 to ARTIST ROOMS, a nationwide project designed to bring art to every corner of the country, and especially targeted to expose young people “not just to art,” says d’Offay, but “to new ways of thinking.” The project brings a new model of thinking, in the form of one-artist exhibitions that offer looking and thinking opportunities to people “literally from Penzance to the Shetland Isles.”
The seed of this idea was planted in the 1940s, when d’Offay was a small boy, in the Midlands. His local library had something called the circulation department, “which would bring in a small group of works, by an artist, maybe Paul Nash,” he remembers, “and there would be several watercolors, some drawings, some books to look at, and a photograph and brief biographical information on the artist. Up till then, we only had maybe some local ladies’ watercolors. So you can imagine, it was manna from heaven.”
What he later did was collect over one-thousand artworks, by identifying the best quality contemporary works available, and then purchasing them, to donate en bloc to the nation. The d’Offay Donation is now administered through its holding institutions, The National Gallery of Scotland, and the Tate Gallery, and it will be seen in perpetuity through the ARTIST ROOMS programme.
Works included in the collection include iconic artists Louise Bourgeois, Alex Katz, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer and many more. For more information visit: www.tate.org.uk
1. Louise Bourgeois Cell (Eyes and Mirrors) 1989–93. Courtesy of Tate Modern and ARTIST ROOMS. © The Easton Foundation