Tate Modern scales back size of shows to cut costs and emissions

Tate Modern is cutting back the number of works included in its highest profile shows in a bid to reduce costs and carbon emissions, as the London gallery looks to mount more exhibitions of “selective gems”. 

The gallery on Thursday unveiled details of its major autumn show on the French artist Paul Cezanne. Several years in the making, it features 80 works from collections in Europe, Asia and the Americas — 22 of which have never been seen in the UK.

Frances Morris, Tate Modern director, said it would continue to stage exhibitions on this scale in future, but “in a very selective way” and only where it could partner with another large institution to save money.

“Concerns about cost — financial cost and cost to the planet — are absolutely reshaping our approach to borrowing works for exhibitions and the way we use our collection,” she said. “It’s something we’re paying extreme attention to.” 

Museums and galleries typically call on fellow institutions for loans for special exhibitions — sometimes offering their own works in exchange. Previous Tate blockbusters on Picasso and Modigliani have featured 100 or more works.

However, the costs of preparing, insuring and transporting works has climbed in recent years, while national institutions are also committed to reducing their carbon footprint.

Income at UK cultural bodies has also suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, as institutions shut their doors before reopening with socially distanced limits on capacity. Tate Modern’s visitor numbers fell from 6.1mn in 2019 to 1.4mn in 2020 and 1.2mn in 2021.

Full-price adult tickets to the Cezanne show will cost £22, the rate it charged for its 2018 Picasso exhibition and at the top end of the gallery’s price range, as the cost of living crisis bites.

“It’s a recognition that it is an extremely cost-intensive exhibition and . . . a reflection of the centrality of the exhibition programme to income generation at Tate,” Morris said, adding that the full-price tickets offset a Tate scheme that allows 16- to 25-year-olds to visit all of its shows for £5.

Paul Cezanne’s ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire’ 1902-6 © Philadelphia Museum of Art

The gallery said it would in future be putting on more shows drawing on its own collection, much of which is conserved in storage. Morris pointed to A Year In Art: Australia 1992, which opens on June 8, exclusively featuring works it already holds. “The number of loans from distant locations is [being] pared back to an absolute minimum,” she said.

Alistair Brown, policy manager at the Museums Association, said museums and galleries had become far more conscious of the impact of their activities on climate change, and this agenda had dovetailed with concerns over financial costs and declining museum funding.

“Even at very large institutions they’re looking at ways they can reduce costs and using their existing collections and assets is one way to do that,” he said.

Tate was not always a champion of Cezanne. When two works were offered to the gallery as gifts in 1920 and 1921, Tate director Charles Aitken rejected them as “too modern”. But just a few years later, Samuel Courtauld, a Tate trustee and an enthusiast for modern art, created a fund cannily specifying the artists whose work could be acquired with it. Since Cezanne was one of them, Tate became the first British institution to acquire his work, in 1924.

Paul Cezanne The Basket of Apples, c. 1893
Paul Cezanne’s ‘The Basket of Apples’ c. 1893 © Art Institute of Chicago

Tate Modern is partnering with the Art Institute of Chicago, which will host the show between May and September this year before its transfer to London. The US gallery’s loans include “Basket of Apples” (1893) and “The Bathers” (1899-1904), which will be shown alongside other celebrated “bather” works by the Provençale native in a dedicated room at the show.

“The EY exhibition: Cezanne” runs from October 5 2022 to March 12 2023 at Tate Modern.

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