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At the end of this century Britain will open its first gallery dedicated to modern art-a movement established before 1914. George Walden looks at what the Bankside gallery tells us about Britain's political and intellectual culture and compares it with the House of Commons just across the river

By George Walden   July 1996

Art events can be potent symbols. Decoding them is a shaky science. During the Paris Commune, Courbet led the march to the Place Vend?me which toppled the Roman column. The Italian futurist Marinetti stood beside Mussolini when he proclaimed the birth of his Fascist party. During the Great Depression, Whistler’s Mother, painted in 1871, was discovered in the US and exhibited in 18 cities, like a miracle-working image. Now, at the turn of the millennium, the British will open their first national gallery of modern art at Bankside-one of the biggest in the world.

How do we read the symbolism…

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