Artist Max Siedentopf’s installation at the Tate Modern in London was neither organized nor approved by the museum. But nonetheless, it’s a brilliant addition to what he calls “one of the most popular sights around the museum”: Its observation deck.
The deck is part of the museum’s Herzog & de Meuron-designed extension, known as the Blavatnik Building. Since it opened in 2016, the building’s tenth floor walkway and deck have offered spectacular 360-degree views of the London skyline, with the exception of a nearby glass tower full of residential apartments with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. (You can see where this is going, right?) The deck is so popular that peeping toms have become a problem for residents, four of whom are suing the gallery in a lawsuit that went to court last week. They want the museum to block the promenade on the deck segment that overlooks the apartment tower.
The debate pits the wealthy residents against advocates of both the museum and public space. Siedentopf’s response? Make it even easier to peep. The London-based artist installed a dozen pairs of binoculars on the deck, just in front of a museum-installed plaque that asks people to respect the neighbor’s privacy.
In an email to Fast Company, the artist declared that the installation is a response to this lawsuit and a way for the museum to “celebrate their most famous artwork.”
“Each week, Tate Modern attracts over a hundred thousand visitors from all around the world to look at some of the best art in the world,” Siedentopf writes. “However, it turns out that one of the most popular sights around the museum is not an exhibited artwork but rather, the neighbouring apartments which can be seen from Tate‘s viewing platform. Thousands of visitors gather in awe to take a peek inside the apartments. No other artwork on display attracts as much fascination as these open plan apartments.”
The artwork itself is simple: 12 pairs of binoculars, tethered by red string to the edge of the deck facing the high-rise to “help many museum visitors enjoy this contemporary artwork even more, and up close,” as Siedentopf puts it.
Siedentopf’s work was, obviously, temporary and not official (“I left before I could see how long they stayed there, but all I can hope for is that enough people got to enjoy the view,” he told us), But the sentiment roughly aligns with the museum’s official stance against the lawsuit. According to the New York Times, the representative of the Tate’s board of trustees told the court that the condo owners want to “deny to the public the right to use the viewing platform for its intended purpose merely to give the claimants an unencumbered right to enjoy their own view.”
In other words: Welcome to life in the city. Install some curtains, like everyone else.