The architectural design of art galleries go through phases. We’ve had 18th and 19th century picture galleries in which to display old masters with their tall burgundy walls in an elegant architectural setting as at Dulwich and the National Gallery of Scotland, the modernist galleries of the 20th century such as Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (some less successful than others), architectural works of art by international architects including Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Foundation Vuitton in Paris and the ubiquitous white box style, which still continues in particular for changing exhibitions of modern and contemporary art even more modernist galleries. As these all show, for better and sometimes for worse, art is best shown in and architectural environment which compliments and enhances the work.
Today, anything can be transformed an unique art gallery for modern and contemporary art, free of the strict environmental conditions that by necessity constrain the design of gallery spaces for older works, and this includes old cast-iron water and oil tanks. The underground Tanks at Tate Modern remain one of the more interesting set of exhibition spaces at Tate Modern and, indeed London, though there is now competition from the new water tank at the CCA at Goldsmith’s College in New Cross.
Perhaps the most interesting spaces for art are those that you could never recreate, remnants from old buildings, including in Tate Modern’s case, the massive space of the Turbine Hall itself, which no modern museum or gallery could afford to build.
The eerie darkness of the Tanks are, of course, great spaces for video and neon works, such as that by Pierre Huyghe & Philippe Parenno which otherwise would necessitate closing and blacking-out spaceS elsewhere in the gallery and work well for artworks where you have to suspend belief with, currently, an Alice in Wonderland environment by Robert Therrien whose sinister oversized furniture crockery making the visitor feel very small indeed as if transported into a different world.