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My Cultural Life: Frances Morris

The Tate Modern director on what she's reading, listening to and more

tate modern director frances morris
GL Portrait / Alamy

The appointment of lauded curator Frances Morris as Tate Modern’s director in 2016 thrilled the art world. Not only was this the first Brit and first woman in the role, but a true Tate veteran, who joined the inaugural gallery – now Tate Britain – in 1987 and sensationally introduced thematic exhibitions as Tate Modern’s original head of displays. As the seminal South Bank gallery celebrates its 20th anniversary this month, Morris reflects on its opening in 2000. ‘It was unquestionably the most thrilling and fulfilling highlight of a long career filled with memorable moments,’ she says. ‘It was a turning point in my life, the life of Tate and the wider art world.’ tate.org.uk

The record that makes me instantly happy is Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman, ever since I first heard it 45 years ago.

why have there been no great women artists book
Linda Nochlin

The two books that have influenced me the most are Linda Nochlin’s Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. Both have helped to shape my commitment to opening up art history to artists who have been excluded from the canon because of race, gender or class.

At the moment I’m reading Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. It’s the first book about the future economy that I can’t put down!

My favourite quote is ‘Excellence has no sex’, said by the great sculptor Eva Hesse. It’s so simple and absolutely true, but needs restating so often.

My best-loved museum as a child was the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. I still regularly visit in my dreams, mostly to imagine what life would have been like as an inhabitant of a 19th-century doll’s house.

the victoria and albert museum of childhood
The V&A Museum of Childhood / Loop Images Ltd + Alamy

I’m not much of a private collector. Having spent so many years collecting great art for Tate, the last thing I want at home is a third-rate collection!

The last theatre production I saw was The Old Vic’s wonderful production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Pitch-perfect performances and a captivating set.

danielle radcliffe and alan cummings in end game
Manuel Harlan

If I had a totally free day in London, I would walk another stretch of the Thames footpath. I’m currently making very slow progress towards the Thames Estuary...

My happy place is the coast of West Cork – where the land slips into the Atlantic Ocean – for its expansive skies, low-lying islands and a long horizon stretching as if to America.

coastline of west cork ireland
Rafal Rozalski / Alamy

In the next 20 years I want Tate Modern to push more boundaries. After 20 years focusing on physical buildings, the next 20 will be about making culture central to all our lives. I want Tate Modern to be truly international, to welcome all visitors, to be open-minded and experimental and a place for making, as well as looking, for confronting the big questions and helping to find the answers.

My major focus going forward will undoubtedly be the climate emergency.

A version of this article appeared in the May 2020 issue of ELLE Decoration.

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