Tate Modern caters to city’s night owls

When pubs call last orders and restaurants serve their final coffee, the usual options in London are to go to a noisy late bar or club or simply head home.

For night owls, however, there may soon be a more culturally stimulating option — to take in exhibits at the world’s most popular gallery of modern art. In a move that it hopes will turn art into an after-dark experience, Tate Modern has suggested that it might stay open until midnight.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, said that plans by London Underground to operate a 24-hour service mean that there could be a change of culture that would create a demand for late-night gallery visits.

Tate would be a pioneer of showing art after pub closing time. In Britain the latest regular openings are 10pm at Tate, Barbican and the Victoria & Albert. The British Museum keeps a selection of galleries open until 8.30pm on Fridays. In New York some museums such as Brooklyn Museum stay open until 11pm once a month.

Speaking at the opening of the new Switch House galleries at Tate Modern, the director said that he would like to experiment with regular midnight openings if a sponsor was interested in paying for the extra costs.

“I think the fact that the Tube is running through the night is going to change London, no doubt,” he said. “London is a city where young people go out at night and they’ll take advantage of that and I think that will change people’s patterns of behaviour.

“We’re not going to encourage people to come in here when they are drunk, and we may decide we’re going to open certain parts of the museum and not others — [for example] some of the installations in the Turbine Hall. Tate may be something you want to see late in the evening on your way home.”

Tate Modern has been open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays since it opened in 2000 and there have been one-off events ending at 2am such as a series of concerts by the German electronic musicians Kraftwerk.

The Switch House building features a terrace bar that will stay open until 11pm six nights a week even when the gallery has closed. The bar in the main Tate Modern building is only open until the rest of the gallery closes.

Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, said that she would be happy about later hours if visitors were motivated by seeing art. “We’d have to think very carefully about it because I’d want it to be a place where people came to consider Tate and what it has to offer rather than a place to go after a night out. We do have a beautiful bar that will be open till 11pm. We’re going to see how that works.”