How Chris Dercon is reinventing the art gallery

As the Director of Tate Modern in London, Chris Dercon initiated BMW Tate Live, a series of performances available to view exclusively on the Internet. The Belgian curator talks about his former home city of Munich and the art gallery as an online community.

Hendrik Lakeberg
Photo Chris Dercon
Mentzel/Hollandse Hoogte/laif

Before you came to Tate Modern in London, you spent eight years as Director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Do you miss the city?

Dercon: In Munich, I was in more direct contact with visitors and in closer touch with a community. However, Tate Modern draws five to six million visitors a year. What we do here has a huge impact and I feel honored to be sharing the responsibility for this. What’s more, Tate Modern is in a city of major contradictions and tensions, and that makes the work we do a very real thing. I like that. And, of course, I still enjoy a little of my Munich home here in London, not just through my partnership with BMW. I still keep in close touch with art institutions in Munich, including the Haus der Kunst, naturally. But it’s not just a question of being emotionally attached to the city: the fact is, Munich has a vibrant art scene that is internationally important.

Chris Dercon has directed London’s Tate Modern since 2012. Prior to that, and following stints at P.S.1 in New York and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, he was Director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich for many years.

“The art gallery is no longer the hermetically sealed unit it has traditionally been, but a mass medium.”

Chris Dercon

With backing from BMW, you started the BMW Tate Live project, a forum for performance art that is mainly presented online. Why the focus on performance art?

Dercon: BMW stands for innovation – in the sense of not only identifying the latest thing, but also giving it meaning. We wanted to find something that reflected this. Tate Modern not only attracts millions of visitors a year, but its online presence draws more than 20 million people – from the Tate website to Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. It is the younger generation, which accesses the gallery in this way, we want to address through BMW Tate Live. We ask the question: what are the needs and subjects that are uppermost in their minds? The performance art rediscovered by younger artists over recent years gives us a valuable insight here. Beyond that, it is important for us to use this moment to explore the significance of the gallery’s exhibits. Do they still have a meaning in our consumer society? Or should we be looking more closely at other experiences? That’s where performance art comes into play.

The BMW Tate Live performance by artist Cally Spooner resembled a modern, abstract musical. (Photo: Tate Photography)

BMW Tate live

BMW has been sponsoring the Tate Live series since 2012. At its core is performance art and, approximately every three months, performances are broadcast live over the Internet, also giving viewers the chance to comment on them in real time. This innovative series also includes workshops and seminars. For further information and past performances go to:

Does the younger generation need a new kind of art gallery?

Dercon: The art gallery is no longer the hermetically sealed unit it has traditionally been, but a mass medium. Through BMW Tate Live, we are addressing a global public that watches our live performances on the Internet – in Spain, Italy and the USA, not just in the London gallery. Today, art comes down to sharing. The aim is to build up a community around the gallery and BMW Tate Live is playing its part in this. Performance art is the perfect medium.