Turner Contemporary (a Tate Plus partner gallery) is a new exhibition space that opened in 2011 on Margate’s seafront. JMW Turner was a regular visitor to Margate, staying on the precise spot where this modern visual arts centre, designed by David Chipperfield Architects, has been sited. Turner loved Margate – he was inspired by the views out to sea and by the quality of the light. Partly in response to Turner’s known association with Margate, Londoners flocked to the town and sparked its growth and development as a classic seaside resort of that era.
Sadly like so many other traditional seaside towns, Margate has suffered. But there is hope. Publicity states that the gallery is: ‘at the forefront of Margate’s exciting revival as Kent’s new cultural heart’. Tracey Emin has also written: ‘the brilliant thing about Turner Contemporary is that it has given people hope that things are going to change here and also put Margate back on the map.’
I was in Margate last week to see an exhibition of Piet Mondrian’s work. Mondrian was one of the key figures in the development of abstract art in the early twentieth century. He is most well-known for his instantly recognizable grid paintings formed of lines and blocks of primary colours that he termed Neo-plasticism.
Mondrian started out as a landscape painter. Writing about his early landscapes the curator comments: ‘Because of their simplicity, he deemed everyday objects such as farms, barns and woods worthy themes. He sought an appropriate way to capture these modest subjects.’ How familiar that concept will be to so many of us working as photographers today.
It was an impressive chronological exhibition although I have to say that at the end of a brief hour I still struggled to understand the drivers behind the evolution of his work from landscape to abstract grid. But then, I make no claims to being an art historian.
The gallery space is well planned. The main high-ceilinged entrance space has panoramic views out to sea. I returned to this space repeatedly to capture an image, waiting for figures to align themselves close to the windows, while avoiding the watchful gaze of a gallery attendant. Eventually I caught an image but it was not quite what I had hoped for.
There is a brightly lit café that spills out onto the terrace, and standing on that terrace looking across the curve of the bay I could see what Turner meant about the quality of the light.
Outdoors there was a commissioned artwork titled ‘Dwelling’ by Dutch Artist Krijn de Koning. A colourful labyrinthine walkway through small enclosed roofless spaces.
It was an enjoyable day trip. Before and after, I walked the promenade and across the sand (see Isolated Figures at the Seaside). I found, and photographed, a rather sadder side to Margate, but one also that shows evidence of the revival that quotes earlier in this post alluded to. More of that in a future post.