Tate Britain

I didn't expect this: The Tate Britain, at times, felt more contemporary than the Tate Modern.

Tate Britain has its key works from British history, definitely, but it also has recent acquisitions of contemporary works that'll leave you more bewildered than anything you'd be likely to find at Tate Modern. Don't get me wrong: I'm not equating contemporary or bewildered with better.

Tate Britain and Tate Modern are both fantastic, but what I have in mind specifically is the installation from Mike Nelson, titled, The Coral Reef. Originally installed in East London more than 10 years ago, it is a series of rooms built to explore the instability, or fragility (like coral reefs are fragile), lurking beneath the structures of today's dominant ideologies (like Christianity or Islam or Socialism or Communism). It's kinda tough to describe, but it was the first time I felt truly confused in a museum, and I am not easily confused by artwork, even contemporary artwork. I've seen enough of it over the years to not be easily shocked, especially if the ingredients themselves, apart from the whole, are not shocking (tables, chairs, couches, chairs, magazines, newspapers, fans, clocks, monitors, calendars; all of the normal things you'd find in rooms).

There was a collection of silver-gelatin photography prints from Donald McCullin, a British photojournalist now more than 75 years old. Mostly it was work from East London and Berlin, back in the days of Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall.

My favorite painting in Tate Britain was by Thomas Gainsborough, known for his painting, The Blue Boy. But it was his Pomeranian Bitch and Pup, nearly 250 years old, that caught my eye. Painting a dog might not be the most original subject, but it was beautiful, and let's be fair: Most classical artwork is everything but original in its choice of subject. I wonder what the Renaissance greats would have produced had they been given a bit of secular leeway.