POST-MODERNISM'S UNFUNNY PEAK
It could be the result of a particularly ill-advised collaboration between Behnisch & Behnisch and Rem Koolhaas on a bad day. But it's not. The freshly unveiled extension to Tate Modern is the work of Herzog & de Meuron. They do clever stuff. They are plausible cultural theorists. They offer a convincing rationale for the most outlandish results. And they understand London. Tate Modern Mark One captured the essence of a city relaxed in its status as a one of the great art capitals of the world, and at ease with its industrial past. So much more sophisticated than Bilbao, and its shameless quest to hide its working-class roots behind Gehry's titanium-clad Guggenheim curves.
This was always going to be a hard act to follow. But Herzog & de Meuron has an uncanny ability to trump its last big surprise. As if to prove its dexterity, the two major projects it unveiled this week could not have been more different. The New Parrish Art Museum for New York's Long Island is an eerily beautiful composition of 30 or so lowslung pavilions. A considered distillation of the outhouses, sheds and shacks in which local artists choose to work, sculpted with due deference to the nuances of the Long Island light. Ascan Mergenthaler, the Herzog & de Meuron partner supervising the project, was quoted as saying: 'That's how we start. The building has to be about the community, how the art is made'.
What, then, are we to make of the misshapen pyramid with which the Tate Modern and London are to be blessed?
Have those clever people at Herzog & de Meuron employed their considerable intellectual acumen to capture the spirit of the art industry in 21st-century London and distil it into architectural form? The language of business-park glazing, shop-window street frontages and relentless selfconscious freneticism could conceivably be read as a critique on the blurring of the boundaries between tourism, commerce and culture. A nod to the importance placed on restaurants, offices and shops, and to the populism inherent in the emphasis on photography, film, video and performance.
Think Trocadero meets Stringfellows for the chattering classes, and the architectural proposition makes more sense.
The awkwardness of the building's angles can also be read as a mocking allusion to the great British tradition of bungled arts commissions.
A reference to a cultural ineptitude, and an unseemly quest for 'profile' which lazily assumes that visionary patronage and shock tactics are pretty much the same. We may have been spared the more ludicrous excesses of the V&A's expansion plans, but Libeskind's ill-judged spiral has come back to haunt us, more ugly and more wilful and more extravagant than before.
It is, perhaps, the ultimate Post-Modern joke. But this time the joke is on us.