THE PUBLIC GALLERIES
Going to a museum was once a rather intimidating and rarefied experience attractive only to a small, educated elite. Today it has become truly a mass pastime. The museum has been called the cathedral of our age, but this kind of analogy no longer does justice to the heady mix of experiences available within the walls of such institutions.
It is now possible to shop (on a fairly broad front), eat (snacks and cordon bleu), drink (soft or alcoholic), form a liaison (sexual or platonic), get better educated (at any age), or just plain lounge around, while, of course, also browsing the art that adorns wall and floor.
And now in Tate Modern London has a world-class museum of modern art which is attracting an average of 20,000 visitors a day. Both shop and restaurants are packed.
London, like all major cities, is full of museums and public galleries, and all of them have been subtly or not so subtly metamorphosing into stylish emporia of the culture industry. Dulwich Picture Gallery has recently reopened having had Sir John Soane's stately edifice (the first public gallery in England) complemented by Rick Mather's cool, glassy, extension, the principal function of which seems to be to provide the gallery with the now statutory cafe. Next in line for a face-lift has been the traditionally rather stuffy Wallace Collection, which opened its modernising "Centenary Project" last Thursday. The National Portrait Gallery's new Ondaatje Extension, for its part, boasts a restaurant with one of the best views in central London.
The contemporary public gallery also caters for a whole range of other less immediately obvious needs. …