How the Tate stole Christmas…

18 Dec

For the past 23 years, Tate Britain has exhibited artist-designed Christmas trees in their magnificent rotunda.

There have been some wonderful reinventions, starting in 1988 with Bill Woodrow’s ‘ecological tree’.  This was followed with trees designed by Tim Head, Lisa Milroy, Boyd Webb, Craigie Aitchison, Shirazeh Houshiary’s up-side down design, Cathy de Monchaux and Cornelia Parker whose tree was laden with dried fruit while the air was magically scented with the aroma of brandy.  In 1996, Julian Opie created a group of ‘model’ trees, constructed from two planes of wood.  Although they were instantly recognisable as fir trees, there were also instantly recognisable as Opie’s.  The group evoked the idea of a forest, drawing people into a mystical Christmas playground.

Julian Opie, Christmas Tree, 1996. Image via

Michael Landy followed this installation the next year.  Then came Richard Wilson, Mat Collishaw, Catherine Yass (whose undecorated tree that was suspended and bisected by a thin beam of blue neon), Yinka Shonibare, Tracey Emin and Mark Wallinger.

Catherine Yass, Christmas Tree, 2000. Image via

A bare tree cropped up again for Wallinger’s installation.  He used a large aspen (the wood of the cross on which Christ was crucified), hung with 500 lightly-scented Catholic rosaries.  Then there was a tree by Richard Wentworth and a traditional spruce by Gary Hume decorated with hand-painted steel-plate blackbirds.  The blackbird is a typical Christmas bird and an iconic part of the festival – the ‘four calling birds’ of the popular song are blackbirds (calling birds, originating from colly birds where colly refers to the black soot of coal).

Mark Wallinger, Populus Tremula, 2003. Image via

Important artists continued to adorn Tate’s rotunda with their festive spirit.  Sarah Lucas in 2006, then, Fiona Banner, Bob and Roberta Smith, Tacita Dean and, finally, last year, Giorgio Sadotti’s unadorned tree.  At the bottom of his Norwegian Spruce, rested a coiled bullwhip, intended to drive away the spell of Christmas on twelfth night.  Sadotti asked us to recognise the tree’s natural elegance in its state of undress.

Giorgio Sadotti, Christmas Tree, 2010.  Image via

And so, it’s the time of year again when Tate should be unveiling its tree but, sadly, there is nothing.  “Due to building works” (that haven’t yet affected the rotunda), a wonderful British tradition has been left to fizzle out and Tate has disappointed Christmas-loving art fans.  I, for one, am missing this festive eccentricity normally embraced by one of our favourite galleries.  If for some reason they don’t want to use the rotunda this year, you’d think they would have enough space across both their London galleries that they wouldn’t have to be the gallery that stole Christmas.

Please Tate let us have our Christmas tree back next year!

Bill Woodrow, Christmas Tree, 1988. Image via

Tim Head installing his tree, 1989. Image via

Lisa Milroy, Christmas Tree, 1990. Image via

Boyd Webb, Christmas Tree, 1991. Image via

Craigie Aitchison, Christmas Tree, 1992. Image via

Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, 1993. Image via

Cathy de Monchaux, Christmas Tree, 1994. Image via

Cornelia Parker, Christmas Tree, 1995. Image via

Michael Landy, Christmas Tree, 1997.  Image via

Richard Wilson, Christmas Tree, 1998. Image via

Mat Collishaw, Christmas Tree, 1999. Image via

Yinka Shonibare, Christmas Tree, 2001.  Image via

Tracey Emin, Christmas Tree, 2002. Image via

Richard Wentworth, Christmas Tree, 2004. Image via

Gary Hume, Christmas Tree, 2005. Image via

Sarah Lucas, Christmas Tree, 2006. Image via

Fiona Banner, Christmas Tree, 2007. Image via

Bob and Roberta Smith, Christmas Tree, 2008.  Image via

Tacita Dean, Christmas Tree, 2009. Image via

4 Responses to “How the Tate stole Christmas…”

  1. mazeingpuzzles December 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    Cool trees! My favorite is the one with the jets. I also liked the one that had all the birds. Great post, gets me excited for Christmas.

    • chloenelkin December 19, 2011 at 8:14 am #

      Thanks for reading and I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. Puts everyone in the festive mood 🙂

  2. adpraisal December 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    What a shame – they could have at least come up with a better excuse too! I like the upside down tree (1993) best.

    • chloenelkin December 19, 2011 at 8:13 am #

      I quite agree! Pleased you enjoyed the post and the other trees though.

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