Its current displays aren’t just terrible. They turn the story of British art into one long joyless slog through brown and grey sludge. The proposed rehang won’t fix that
In its 17 years of existence, Tate Britain has practically killed British art history. Drawn from the biggest collection of British art in the world, the gallery’s permanent displays – or, more accurately, incredibly impermanent displays – have achieved such a rare cocktail of superficiality, pretension, ugliness and willed ignorance that, after a couple of hours there, it is hard to feel any enthusiasm for the story of British art.
I was at Tate Britain the other day, looking hard at the collection displays. I have no choice, as I’m writing a history of British art. I would not take what the gallery currently calls its Walk Through British Art for fun. Even when you’ve good reason to go, it’s a slog. I left with a depressing sense that British art since the Tudor age was just one big brown and grey sludge, barren of beauty, bereft of genius.