Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tate Modern

The Tate Museum, in London outgrew its space along the Thames many years ago. The museum acquired an abandoned power plant in Southwark, on the South Bank of the Thames, and began a renovation that would more than double the square-footage of its modest plant at Millbank.

When the new space was complete, the museum christened it Tate Modern, and moved its entire, impressive modern art collection there. The space in Millbank was renamed Tate Britain, renovated to maximize the gallery space and houses the museum's collection of British art dating back to 1500.

The redesigned/renamed Tate Britain galleries in Millbank are a huge success.

On the other hand, the Tate Modern is a huge waste of space. The small, but well-organized galleries are crammed against one wall of the massive structure, while the majority of the interior is used for a multi-story atrium that houses sculpture that belongs outdoors.

The tiny Tate Britain boasts nearly the same square footage of gallery space as does the massive Tate Modern.

For me, a visit to the Tate Modern is a disappointment. A fantastic collection crammed into unnecessarily modest galleries, while a huge empty hole assumes the majority of the building's square footage.

My criticisms aside, the Tate Modern's cavernous hole has become the center of an unexpected story: death.

A young lawyer fell to his death while attending a reception.

Lawyer falls to his death at Tate Modern
By Paul Stokes
1:44am GMT 15/02/2007

A promising young corporate lawyer plunged to his death from an art gallery stairwell on Friday after he and colleagues raised concerns over heavy workloads and long hours.

Matthew Courtney on holiday in the Gambia before Christmas

Matthew Courtney, 27, the son of a World Cup soccer referee, had gone to London's Tate Modern alone where he fell from between the sixth and seven floors. He died instantly from head and chest injuries.

Oxford-educated Mr Courtney qualified as a £55,000 a year associate with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in August after two years training with the company in Fleet Street.

He was one of only 100 trainee lawyers a year selected by the company and had been appointed an associate specialising in intellectual property rights.

On occasions he may have been called on to work extra hours when transactions were closing on deals worth billions of pounds.

After up to eight years working as an associate the reward for success at this level could be a partnership and earnings of up to £1 milion a year.

Detectives have described his death, just before midnight on Friday, as "unexplained but not suspicious" and examination of security camera footage has been inconclusive.

His father George Courtney, 65, who refereed at the World Cups in 1986 and 1990, said his only son's workload had increased in the fortnight before his death.

Mr Courtney senior said: "There might have been an issue with his workload; they had recently taken some of that workload off him. Freshfields were very happy with the quality of his work.

"He had a good crowd of people around him at Freshfield and enjoyed his time there. He was like all of the associates there; he worked fairly long hours, but there was a very good social side.

Matthew set very high goals for himself and achieved great goals. He was a credit to himself and his family."

He and his wife Margaret have been visited by his manager and colleagues at their £350,000 detached home in Spennymoor, Durham.

The couple said today that their son had given no indication that he planned to commit suicide. He appeared in a clear and normal state of mind when they spoke to him before his death.

Mr Courtney, a retired head teacher, said: "Margaret and I spoke to him the night before he died and he was fine. If I had known that Matthew had a problem I would have driven through the night to be with him and bring him home.

Witnesses saw him take a call on his Blackberry mobile phone in a room where a social event was being held on the seventh floor of the Tate.

He was then seen to leave the room and step into a foyer area to escape the noise and died moments later.

Investigators have studied his mobile phone calls and text messages, as well as his work computer and desk, and have found nothing to suggest he planned to kill himself.

"There was nothing to indicate that he was planning to take his own life. We are not saying that he didn't do that because the police haven't been able to say for sure yet, but there was certainly nothing that suggested he would.

"We have been told that the stairwells at the Tate can be a little unsafe because of their design but we simply don't know what happened and we may never know.

"When we last spoke to him it was all just mundane stuff. He wasn't working 16 hours shifts, that's nonsense. He didn't start work until about 9.30am.

"Over the past couple of weeks he may have done more hours because I think a project was being finished. He worked some long hours, but was certainly not working long hours every day."

Mrs Courtney, 59, a headteacher, said: "We have a lot of questions. We don't know how he fell, or if he fell backwards, that kind of thing. The police have been very good and I believe we will have answers.

"Matthew had a great love and enjoyment of life. I will always remember how he jumped up and flung off his baseball cap when he passed his driving test. He had so much enthusiasm and a big presence."

The couple had planned to visit him at the flat in Pimlico, Central London, which he shared with a friend and to meet his girlfriend of four months, who works in marketing. Matthew had also been making plans for a skiing holiday.

Matthew, who lived in Pimlico, central London, attended Durham School before studying law on an open scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford followed by a year spent at law school in London.

A spokesman for Freshfields, which has 2,400 lawyers in 28 offices worldwide, said today that the partners and staff were deeply saddened by the tragedy.

He said: "Matt was a terrific person and a very promising lawyer. His death is a shock to us all and he will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends."

The company declined to comment on suggestions that he had been required to work up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

Junior associates are able to raise the subject of their work levels at twice weekly reviews and Matthew's were in keeping with his job description.

There were said to be "peaks and troughs" with long hours required when a transaction was closing, but the average for an associate is around 50 hours a week.

Who wants to die for art? (An interlude from Divine!)

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