Categories DesignPosted on

Inverting Tradition: Tate Looks to the Past to Look to the Future

Tate Britain has unveiled the first Christmas tree for the newly renovated museum. Created by Shirazeh Houshiary, it is a spectacular Christmas tree that restarts the long-standing tradition set aside in 2013 during the museum’s renovation works. The most shocking feature is that it hangs upside-down from the glass ceiling above the striking spiral staircase installed in the Rotunda, at the Millbank entrance, with its roots exposed and covered in gold leaf.

Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, Tate Britain, 2016
Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, Tate Britain, 2016

This Christmas tree reimagines Shirazeh Houshiary’s work for Tate from over twenty years ago, as she described her tree for Tate Britain as ‘taking earth back to heaven’. The roots of this new creation, which focuses on the tree’s natural qualities, such as texture, colour, smell and shape, are covered in gold leaf, drawing light and attention to what is usually underground. She said, ‘I would like us to contemplate that the pine tree is one of the oldest species and recognise that the roots are the source of its continued stability, nourishment and longevity. As the roots remain hidden, it is best to seek what is hidden rather than what is apparent. As a Buddhist monk wrote, ‘An old pine tree preaches wisdom’.’

The Tree, as this creation is called, is suspended down the centre of the staircase, toward the public spaces below, offering an altered perspective from three levels of the gallery; the tip of the tree from the lower floor, the floating body from the ground, and the glittering roots opening out in an abstract star formation when viewed from the upper floor, thus focusing on the tree’s natural qualities.

Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, Tate Britain, 2016
Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, Tate Britain, 2016

Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain said, ‘We are delighted to show Shirazeh Houshiary’s Christmas tree this year, alongside fellow prominent international UK-based artists in the Duveen Galleries. This unveiling marks a pivotal moment for the festive season at Tate Britain, by looking to the past in order to look to the future. This tree fits the new space perfectly, allowing a different generation to experience the majesty of Houshiary’s work in the striking setting of the new entrance and staircase, and signals the beginning of an exciting era of annual Christmas artist commissions at Tate Britain.’

Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1994, Shirazeh Houshiary was born in Iran in 1955 and moved to London in the 1970’s, where she currently lives and works. During your visit to this spectacular Christmas artwork, don’t miss the new display at the Duveen Galleries that Farquharson referred to, Sculpture as Object, featuring work by contemporaries of Houshiary: Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Tony Cragg, Richard Wentworth, Bill Woodrow, Shelagh Cluett, Richard Deacon, Jacqui Poncelet, and Alison Wilding, all of whom emerged in the 1980’s and achieved international recognition for their new approaches to sculpture.

Christmas Tree 2016, by Shirazeh Houshiary is exhibited in the Millbank Entrance of Tate Britain with support from Lisson Gallery. Sculpture as Object is curated by Clarrie Wallis, Senior Curator of Contemporary British Art, and Elsa Coustou, Assistant Curator of Contemporary British Art.

Tate Britain


Tate Christmas Photograph courtesy Joe Humphrys, Tate Photography.