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Queen Elizabeth opens Tate Modern

Britain's Queen Elizabeth meets artist Bridget Riley and an example of her work at the Tate Modern gallery in London. Keystone

Britain's Queen Elizabeth has opened the Tate Modern art museum in London, designed by the Swiss architects, Herzog and de Meuron. They have created the world's newest and largest modern art museum on the south bank of the Thames.

The architects have come in for almost universal praise for their work on converting the former power station into a massive, light-filled SFr350 million museum, facing St Paul’s cathedral on the other side of the river. The Tate Modern has been described by a leading British newspaper as the “cathedral of cool”.

The Swiss interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, who was the Swiss government’s representative at the opening ceremony, described the Tate Modern as a “wonderful and very important museum”. She said she was “proud that so many Swiss, and so many Swiss traditions, have had an influence on Tate Modern”.

However, Dreifuss stressed that the sole official Swiss contribution was the Swiss Light at the top of the museum’s 110-metre high chimney.

The light was financed by the Swiss government-sponsored Commission for the Presence of Switzerland Abroad at a cost of SFr750,000. The beam can be seen across London, and sends a shard of light down through a special glass roof into the museum.

According to the Swiss foreign ministry “it is intended to be a constant reminder of the Swiss presence in London” – a beacon of Swiss creativity.

Dreifuss described the Swiss Light as “the cherry on the cake” but emphasized the magnificence of the building itself. She also paid tribute to the landscape work, still going on around the Tate Modern, which was designed by another Swiss firm, Kienast Vogt.

One of the architects, Jacques Herzog, told a news conference that in his brief meeting with the Queen at the opening ceremony, she had told him she felt “comfortable and well” at the Tate Modern.

Herzog said many doors had opened as a result of Basel-based Herzog and de Meuron being commissioned to design the new museum. He said they should be viewed as international architects, who were in Switzerland but were international at the same time. “Being based in Basel it has always been very natural to be going beyond borders, working in different languages,” he said.

Lars Nittve, the Norwegian-born director of Tate Modern, told swissinfo Herzog and de Meuron had been his favourite architects for some time, and that the success of their latest project has proved he had been right to support them.

Both Herzog and de Meuron spoke of how they had scrapped the interior of the former power station. From the outside the building still resembles a power station. None of its 4.2 million bricks have been touched and the chimney has been retained. The main addition to the exterior is a glass roof which has a dramatic impact on lighting within the museum.

The museum opens to the public on Friday. An estimated two million people a year are expected to visit the Tate Modern.

by Ron Popper

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR