Cows, sunflowers, toilets and bunnies: As the new Tate Modern opens, here are 19 of its best events and exhibitions

By Ben Miller | 17 June 2016

A weekend of celebrations is marking Tate Modern's new £260 million Switch House extension. Here are 19 hits from the first 15 years of the gallery

A photo of the modern futuristic tate modern building against a dusk sky in london
The new-look Tate Modern© Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron
Sonia Delaunay’s simultanist spheres
From French poetry stitched upon heavy curtains to fashion design and bold abstraction, the Russian-born co-founder of Simultanism – a movement known for setting discs of bright colour along radial lines – provided one of TM’s most colourful exhibitions.

The central gallery featured three murals created for the 1937 Paris Exhibition, taking a theme of flight across a set of glowing spheres.

Tino Sehgal’s dramatic associations
The Turbine Hall’s first live art commission, by the British-German part-choreographer Sehgal, saw 50 actors performing rehearsed sequences and telling stories to visitors. The idea was to create a different, interactive kind of energy.

“It transforms the museum into a biopolitical and anarchic experience...using nothing but the human body and social interaction as its medium,” said Director Chris Dercon.

Jeff Koons’ blown-up pop bunny
Beginning with Andy Warhol and featuring a number of saucily controversial works, this examination of public persona as product took Andy Warhol’s provocative assertion that “good business is the best art” as its tagline.

A giant inflated silver rabbit, made by Jeff Koons for the 2007 Macy’s New York Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2007, stood in Covent Garden as part of the show. “It’s a mysterious kind of faceless creature, but it has a kind of warmth to it,” said Robin Hall, the Executive Producer of the parade.

Louise Bourgeois' giant spiders

Maman, a female spider who carries her white marble eggs beneath her, became the arachnid first sight to visitors after TM opened in 2000. Made of steel, the 30-foot sculpture (its legs spanned ten metres) would reappear at the end of that first year, and guard over the bridge again in 2004.

Part of a series of spiders made by Bourgeois during the 1990s, the work reflected the artist’s childhood anxieties and preoccupation with family relationships. Maman has a permanent home in Tate’s vaults.

Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and nudes
Duchamp, Francis Picabia and Man Ray were friends on a strange and brilliant journey in contrariness more than a century ago. Tate Modern’s first theme for this exhibition, Movement, made room for Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase – the first time the vision of an abstracted female had been seen in a UK Gallery for more than 40 years.

Picabia’s plagiarised machines and Man Ray’s surreal broom and painting of a nude Lee Miller also featured. But Duchamp’s Fountain – a urinal he offered as art under the pseudonym R Mutt – was perhaps the best-known piece on display.

Damien Hirst’s cows and crematoria
A giant fibreglass ashtray, a ping pong ball suspended in the air by a hairdryer, a cross-section of a cow and a calf a macabre case and a canvas of dead flies were among the delights in retrospective which proved Hirst’s excellence at disgust.

Hirst’s best-known work is a formaldehyde-covered one, and he repeated the trick here: eleven sausages covered in the stuff formed one of the centrepieces for his first solo show in the UK.

Carsten Höller's silver slides
German artist Höller’s metal transporting slides were all about levels: five of them, between which visitors could tumble up and down the towering tubes.

The largest, Test Site, dropped 26.5 metres and was 55.5 metres long, ending at a brightly-lit “arrival hall”. “He has offered an experience, the results or effect of which we have yet to understand,” said Director Vicente Todolí.

A photo of henri matisse's the snail, made up of bright, colourful blocks
Henri Matisse, The Snail (1953). Gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper mounted on canvas© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015
Matisse’s majestic Cut-Outs
Perhaps the most striking work in this inspirational Matisse show was the giant Large Composition with Masks, setting a series of emblems, patterns and faces across the wall of a central gallery in blocks of colour which dwarfed visitors.

Blue Nude, from 1952, was one of the works full of the “joyful and effortless” energy curator Nicholas Cullinan observed across the boards. But little here was effortless: as the detailed insights into Matisse’s process showed, he spent years and decades meticulously crafting his masterpieces.

Juan Muñoz’s unsettling sculptures
A crowd of figurative sculptures by Madrid’s Muñoz, who was as much a wordsmith as he was a visual artist, unsettled and intrigued in the semi-human opening gallery of this retrospective. Identically dressed and gathered in groups, the grey guys seemed busy in conversation.

Sound was a recurring theme, often through drums. And sometimes it was about words left unspoken: The Prompter featured an abandoned drum on an empty stage and a dwarf enclosed in a box.

Edward Hopper’s classic paintings
The first TM exhibition in 20 years of Hopper’s atmospheric works ran through his entire career, portraying America during the mid-20th century through watercolours, drawings and etchings.

From offices to bars and seemingly forlorn figures in bedrooms, Hopper’s obsession with light and shadow stood out. "His interest in portraying the isolated figure reappears throughout his work," said curator Sheena Wagstaff.

Eva Hesse’s contradiction and absurdity
Hesse, who died from a brain tumour at the age of 34 in 1970, had not been the subject of a major exhibition for more than 20 years. Many of her absurdist works were slowly eroding, and a rope covered in latex and a series of painted cord sculptures, Hang Up, caught the eye.

Hesse, who fled Nazi Germany as a child, called Hang Up “the most important early statement I made”. “It was the first time my idea of absurdity of extreme feeling came through,” she said.

A photo of a large, colourful map of the world made by Italian artist Alighiero Boetti
Alighiero Boetti, Mappa (1990‐1991)© Alighiero Boetti by SIAE 2015. Photo: David Regen, New York
Alighiero Boetti’s Game Plan
Italian wanderer Boetti brought postal art, epic biro canvasses and a light which came on for 11 seconds a year, as well as an embroidery starkly proclaiming how the Afghan people were in a “holy war” and would persist “until the last drop of blood of their lives’ energy is spent” during the 1970s and 1980s.

In a gallery overlooking the Thames, he attempted to classify the world’s 1,000 longest rivers on rugs. A dozen world maps, made on large-scale banners between 1971 and 1991, illustrated how volatility can quickly change borders and flags.

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds
Dust concerns meant curators had to change the vantage point from which Weiwei’s millions of sunflower seeds could be viewed by visitors to the 11th Turbine Hall commission. Each porcelain seed was individually sculpted and painted by specialists in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhan.

“I think the quantity we made for Tate was beyond imagination,” said the generous artist. “It is going to be some kind of myth in the history of this town.”

Matt Mullican’s hypnotised art
San Francisco artist Mullican performed under hypnosis under the bridge in the Turbine Hall, lighting up TM’s burgeoning live performance programme, despite working in black acrylic paint.

“It’s as if the emotional aspect of a room was distilled and the room doesn’t physically exist, but is suggested through hypnosis,” the artist said by way of explanation. “You never know what he is going to do – you never know what will happen,” said Producer Marc Pérennès.

Frida Kahlo’s colour and costume
Almost 80 years after Kahlo started painting – she was “bored as hell” following severe injuries from a bus crash – these 77 dramatic paintings were grouped into a powerful chronology of her life.

A double self-portrait following her divorce showed Kahlo in traditional Mexican costume with her heart exposed. Mini-portraits of Gandhi, Stalin, Napoleon and Hitler showed the figures surrounding the infant Moses floating in a basket of rushes.

Kraftwerk dazzle the Turbine Hall

Perhaps the band most well-disposed to an art gallery setting, Kraftwerk’s first London shows in almost ten years took to the Turbine Hall and were big news: the eight dates sold out swiftly, and the band didn’t disappoint in a multi-sensory set of gigs backdropped by giant screens.

From Autobahn to Tour de France, the performances ran chronologically through the band’s career. “I think they are, effectively, the most important band in the history of pop music for the last 40 years,” said Paul Humphreys, of fellow strobe fans Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Mira Schendel’s effervescent energy
Mira Schendel’s work is all life, death, love and joy. A rainfall of white hairs, Still Waves of Probability, was originally made for the Bienal de São Paulo, an event boycotted by domestic and visiting artists unimpressed by the military dictatorship which controlled Brazil.

The Zurich-born artist only returned to Brazil in 1953 after attempting to flee Europe during the Second World War. Prolific and collaborative, her paintings and dense language maps involved philosophers, poets, musicians and members of the émigré community she joined as a self-taught painter.

Tate’s Tanks line up
Few settings can eclipse these raw, industrial spaces, inherited byTM from the Bankside Power Station and used for the 15-week Art in Action festival.

Dancers, film-makers, musicians and artists filled the space in a conversion which was the first phase of the project to extend the complex.

Mark Rothko’s colour and mystery
Tate’s Rothko Room paintings and the American abstract expressionist’s late murals from Japan were reunited in this glowing first major retrospective of his works for more than 20 years.

A central gallery showed 14 of the murals, nine of which were received by Tate in 1970 following five years of discussions between the artist and the gallery, described by exhibition curator Achim Borchardt-Hume as “entangled”.

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