Sliding Through the Art at London's Tate Modern A new sculpture exhibition at London's Tate Modern gallery gives visitors a chance to experience art from the inside out. German artist Carsten Holler has built a series of long, curving slides inside the gallery's cavernous Turbine Hall.
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Sliding Through the Art at London's Tate Modern

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Sliding Through the Art at London's Tate Modern

Sliding Through the Art at London's Tate Modern

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The Tate Modern Museum in London has had many new and provocative displays of modern art, and now it has some you can slide down. A series of huge slides designed by the German artist Carsten Holler are great fun for visitors, but they've also raised the old question, is it art? NPR's Rob Gifford went to see for himself.

ROB GIFFORD: The Tate Modern Museum is housed in a former power station on the south bank of the river Thames in central London. It has a number of galleries, but its main attraction is the turbine room, the huge, cavernous space where I'm standing now, more than 100-feet high and some 450-feet long. This used to house, of course, the power station turbines, but now it's perhaps the most fantastic open space for art in any gallery in Europe.

The latest installation is made up of five stainless-steel slides of different lengths from different heights, and they all end up just behind me here. You can probably hear some of the squeals as people slide down from the top.

With me now to tell me a little bit more about this installation is Jessica Morgan, curator of contemporary art here at the Tate Modern. First of all, let me just ask you. What are you trying to do? What's the artist trying to do with this installation?

Ms. JESSICA MORGAN (Curator of Contemporary Art, Tate Modern Museum): Well, every year we have a new commission. Carsten Holler's piece, the enormous slides that fill the space, is as he's described it, a test. It's a test of two things. The title of the work is Test Site. And on the one hand, his belief that slides really should be used throughout the architecture of buildings and public spaces. The other thing that's being tested is the experience of sliding, which is this experience of having to let go, of losing control, of vertigo, and something that he firmly believes would probably change us all for the better were we to do it every day. If you're not interested in sliding, they are a spectacular sculpture that fills the hall. They look absolutely incredible.

GIFFORD: So in a word, it is art.

Ms. MORGAN: Absolutely.

GIFFORD: Well there you have it, the case for the defense. Now let's go in search of the case for the prosecution. I'm supposed to be meeting Charles Thomson, the founder of a group known as the Stuckists. Are you Charles?

Mr. CHARLES THOMSON (Founder, The Stuckists): I am, yes.

GIFFORD: Hi, nice to meet you. First of all, tell me what are the Stuckists? What's that name?

Mr. THOMSON: The Stuckists, the name, comes from an insult from Brit artist Tracy Emin to her ex-boyfriend, Billy Childish, that he was stuck. We believe in painting pictures as art. We think that a dead shark is a fish and not art. That's the Damien Hirst artwork, of course, which is now in America.

GIFFORD: And slides?

Mr. THOMSON: Slides are not art. They're what's known as a children's playground. Because something is put in the Tate Gallery doesn't mean it's art. My shoe is now in the Tate Gallery because I'm wearing it. It doesn't mean my shoe has become art. It's still my shoe.

GIFFORD: Taking on the post-modernist art world, Charles Thomson. Thank you very much indeed.

Mr. THOMSON: Thank you.

GIFFORD: Now I think I'm going to go and ask some ordinary Londoners or tourists who have come here what they think about the slide here at the Tate Modern.

Excuse me, Madam, can you tell me your name, please?

Ms. LONDA SICHECK(ph) (Museum Visitor): Hi. Londa Sicheck.

GIFFORD: Have you been down the slide?


GIFFORD: And what did you think?

Ms. SICHECK: I thought it was very juttery(ph)...


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LONDA SICHECK: And it's great fun, great fun.

GIFFORD: But the big question: is it art?

Ms. SICHECK: It's not my idea of art, but it's a very pleasing a structure to look at, so it's probably a bit of art. I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GIFFORD: Maybe. We've got a maybe here. And this is your daughter?

Ms. SICHECK: My daughter.

GIFFORD: Can I ask your name?

Ms. JORAH(ph) SICHECK (Museum Visitor): Jorah Sicheck.

GIFFORD: And what did you think?

Ms. J. SICHECK: It was really fun.

GIFFORD: And the big question, is it art?

Ms. J. SICHECK: Well, if the artist calls it art, then it's art.

GIFFORD: Well, that's as good a summary as I think I'm going to get. Thank you very much. Now all that remains for me to do is to climb up to the very top and have a go on the biggest slide myself.

Here we go. This is Rob Gifford, NPR News on the slide at the Tate Modern in central London.

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