The days are short, the nights are long, and the weather is less than inviting – which is why winter is the perfect time to visit art galleries; light-filled spaces full of creativity, ideas and togetherness (not to mention cosy cafes and, in the case of Tate Modern, epic views over London).
With thousands of pieces of art in its permanent collections on show across its two London galleries (all of which are available to explore for free), Tate Britain and Tate Modern have something for everyone. In fact, the only problem can be knowing where to start.
To offer some inspiration, we spoke to four Tate curators to hear about the pieces that lift their spirits. Here’s what they had to say.
Norham Castle, Sunrise by Joseph Mallord William Turner, Tate Britain
Chosen by Amy Concannon, Manton senior curator of historic British art at Tate Britain
This is one of the most loved pictures in the Tate collection and every time I walk past it stops me in my tracks. It’s in a room that I curated deliberately for people to just breathe out.
I find it hugely beguiling with a very beautiful colour palette – that lemon yellow and soft blue is really soothing. The sunlight seems to dissolve everything and it’s got this soft haze effect that produces a serenity – it’s a soulful reflection on a site that had seen so much conflict and was now at peace.
This painting plays an intriguing role in Turner’s life and career and is one of many that were in his studio when he died. We don’t know whether it was finished, whether he was happy with it, or why he was painting it. There are all these questions that evade any sense of certainty for art historians and that’s part of why it’s so captivating. It’s just a beautiful mystery.
The composition is much the same as one he exhibited early in his career, so in a way it’s a picture of a memory as much as a picture of a place. He went back to Norham later in his life and apparently raised his hat to the mound, as if to say “thanks”. It’s probably one of those Turnerian legends, but I know Norham was a meaningful icon for his career.
I’m an advocate of enjoying a painting for being a painting. By looking at the brushwork you lose yourself in texture then step back and lose yourself in the peacefulness of the image as a whole.
Dreams Have No Titles by Zineb Sedira, Tate Britain
Chosen by Dominique Heyse-Moore, senior curator of contemporary British art at Tate Britain
The first time I saw this work was at Venice Biennale in 2022 where Sedira represented France. There, it was a full installation across many rooms – you entered the French Pavilion and found yourself in her sitting room in Brixton. She did away with the idea of nation state identity.
The installation included a film – and that’s on display at Tate Britain at the moment as part of a collection that tells the story of 500 years of British art. Dreams Have No Titles is the concluding point, it’s tucked away in the back corner – you see the red glow of the cinema room and inside it’s very cosy. There’s red velvet cinema seating.
The whole thing is about post-colonial, anti-colonial resistance in Algerian, Italian and French cinema. Sedira looks at the idea of nationality via both the traumas of colonialism and what brings us all to be scattered across the globe in the way that we are, and there’s a joyous defiance in that.
The film includes conversations about her childhood in France, the battle of Algiers and the cinema that radicalised Sedira when she was younger. But she also talks about music, dance and how having her friends around her is vital to her life. For me, as someone with a complicated post-colonial history, there’s huge comfort in that, and it’s really uplifting to be reminded to dance.
There are some very sad elements to the stories she tells and the cinema that she refers to, but the message is dancing through, and, despite that, it is a wonderful recommendation for wellbeing.
Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? by Petrit Halilaj, Tate Modern
Chosen by Amrita Dhallu, assistant curator, international art at Tate Modern
This is an immersive sculptural installation of six giant moths that look pretty fantastical, so when you encounter them you immediately have a sense of joy – they’re playful, funny and whimsical. Then there’s the vibrant colour that is underestimated when it comes to its impact on people’s moods. Halilaj is a masterful colourist.
Halilaj made the moths with his mother. There’s something beautiful and tender about the familial, maternal energy that underpins this work, and I think that’s quite healing. The matrilineal connection I have with my ancestors is something I sense very strongly here, and I feel very comforted by that presence. Halilaj and his mother used traditional Kosovar carpets to make the wings of the moths, so there’s a creative knowledge here that has been passed down through generations.
Halilaj used to chase moths a lot when he was a child in his family home and he developed a kinship with them. The work speaks to a specific moment in history – Halilaj was forced into exile during the Kosovan war and lived as a refugee in Albania. It references that in a beautiful, innocent way. It’s about winged creatures taking flight, which is a motif throughout his work – the importance of dreaming in spite of difficult conditions.
What makes this artwork so special to me in terms of wellbeing is that there’s a message of transformation and metamorphoses. It makes you think about your own potential.
“Untitled” (March 5th) #2 by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Tate Modern
Chosen by Michael Wellen, senior curator of international art at Tate Modern
Felix Gonzalez-Torres is one of my favourite artists. He takes very mundane things – household items such as clocks, lightbulbs, candy – and gives them deep emotional resonance.
This is his first lightbulb work from 1991 – the same year his partner, Ross Laycock, died of Aids-related illness (5 March is Laycock’s birthday). The work consists of two separate lightbulbs that connect by wrapping around each other like entwined lovers. It’s about the sense of brightness that comes from being in love and Gonzalez-Torres’s fear of being alone – of only being one in this couple.
I think it’s an important way of thinking about grief, beauty, and how you can memorialise someone even in the things that are around you in everyday life. My mother just passed away – she was called Carole Wellen and she was an artist. She was an important part of how I came to appreciate museums and how art can provide a different way of seeing the world.
This is the kind of artwork that maybe people would question, but it’s such a key part of the history of conceptual art that we are able to see art not just in a traditional sense but as an idea that we take with us both in the museum and out in the world.
This piece gives me a feeling of solace. It’s uplifting to know that you’re not alone in grief, and that others have found ways to channel it into a communication even if it’s a communication that can’t say everything.
Boost your wellness with a visit to a Tate gallery. Entry is free, and there’s no need to book. Start planning your visit at tate.org.uk/visit
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