AAJ Press
A&AJ Critical Writing, Architecture & Design, Exhibitions & Events

Turner Contemporary, Margate

Its an interesting concept to describe the sea to a blind person. Very similar, in fact, to explaining art to new audiences. So the role of the Turner Contemporary, in  Margate, part of the gallery rollout of the last decade in Gateshead, Middlesborough and Nottingham, is to create opportunities for art, and public access and participation, in places historically unfamiliar with the presence of art. The approach is high-art evangelism, championed enthusiastically by Old Margateian, Tracey Emin.

“A sense of place and serious consideration of audiences, both near and far, are central to our approach. We know our audiences well enough to trust them, so showing the best art and hosting excellent events are paramount. We want visitors to value their own responses to the work they encounter here and are developing innovative ways to encourage this through interpretation and discursive methods, such as training local people including teenagers to be ‘Navigators’ in the galleries.” Turner Contemporary

The link with JMW Turner results from his regular visits to paint the skies and sea of Georgian Margate. There is no permanent collection but itinerant exhibitions of his work are planned.  The opening exhibition Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens centres on a  Turner painting, depicting a dramatic volcanic landscape that Turner never saw. The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains in the Island of St. Vincent, at Midnight, on the 30th April 1812, from a Sketch Taken at the Time by Hugh P. Keane, Esqre, 1815.

The architect David Chipperfield has described the new gallery  as “a very secure and wholesome building”. The robust industrial structure, costing £17.5million, emerged after the earlier  problematic uncompleted designs from Snohetta+Spence, and reflected the need for a political solution to complete the building. The sea facade is the most satisfactory, internally and exeternally.

A large Daniel Buren temporary intervention into the gallery’s double-height Sunley Gallery, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, creates a large circular aperture to enjoy the sea view with yellow stripes creating the gay echo of seaside deckchair pattern.

New works by  Russell Crotty and Ellen Harvey created for the opening respond to Turner’s painting, the building and Margate. Crotty represents text and images from personal explorations of the seascape and surrounding area in large books and on floating globe. Further installations are by Michael Craig Martin, with a neon Turning Pages, Conrad Shawcross, Teresita Fernández and Douglas Gordon. A text on the gallery staircase, Afterturner by Gordon displays a poetic text piece which reflects on Turner’s final words The sun is God.

The gallery is far more than the space itself and acts as a generator for the area, which for the opening included The BIG Sing, a musical composition by Orlando Gough, which featured  a massed local amateur choir. Performances by Bodies in Urban Spaces choreographed by Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner, which involved participants in a static Parkour or site-specific urban body trail, a sort of Spencer Tunick installation with clothes on.  A future exhibition in 2012 by Hamish Fulton  will include new work made as the result of group walks in Kent.

Turner Contemporary  has no permanent collection, although an affiliate of Plus Tate, with loan access to the Tate collections. The role of the gallery is more an activist with a programme of temporary exhibitions and external events to create an Art Dreamland to rival Margate’s more traditional popular theme park to attract the crowds to a rejuvenating but not unloved seaside resort.


Architectural images © Richard Bryant/Arcaidimages.com

About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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