Tate Spearheads Global Warming Initiative


Nicholas Serota, Tate galleries director, implores art galleries to turn down heat to prevent climate change

The Tate galleries director, Nicholas Serota, is leading the charge to make art galleries cut temperature and humidity levels. Current rules and regulations for gallery temperature and humidity are not only expensive, Serota argues;  they are also harming the environment.

Currently, a gallery/museum must guarantee a climate of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and 50% relative humidity, to be eligible to borrow ‘great art’. These regulations were set down in London during the First and Second World Wars in order to ensure that artworks being moved to escape the bombs found a safe home.

But Serota, together with Mark Jones (the former head of the Victoria and Albert Museum), argues that the current climate crisis demands change. ‘We need to devise imaginative new solutions to resolve the dichotomy between long-term collections care and expensive environmental conditions’, Serota explained. This can be achieved, he believes, by establishing ‘a new dialogue between professionals’, to ‘empower them to consider fresh options’. Serota, true to his word, has set up a working group to investigate the possibilities of making changes at the Tate.

So far, Serota has met with some success. The National Museum Directors Conference, for example, has modified advice in ‘interim guidelines’, while the Indianapolis Museum of Art has unilaterally abandoned agreed environmental control levels. But, it seems that the long-term solution could lie with architects, and a return to the ‘smart’ systems of ventilation now superseded by air con.

The Tate has issued a statement expressing hope ‘that over the next couple of years definitive guidelines and conditions can be reached through co-ordinated research findings from a range of institutions in the UK and internationally’. But admitted that ‘Materials which are highly sensitive will always need tight controls’. Consequently, while making changes in the collection display galleries at Tate Modern and Tate Britain, Tate directors have yet to touch the thermostat in loan exhibition galleries, or in the rooms where ‘vulnerable works’ are displayed.

Serota’s crusade comes at a time when feeling is running high about the preservation of invaluable artworks. The Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery has publicised issues of art preservation with the news that the British tax payer could be asked to pay up to £1.5 billlion if any of the were damaged during their time in the UK. 

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