Turner Contemporary

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.


Turner Contemporary

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.

_DS81797Mondrian 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.

_DS81768_finalThe 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.

_DS81765Outdoors there was a commissioned artwork titled ‘Dwelling’ by Dutch Artist Krijn de Koning. A colourful labyrinthine walkway through small enclosed roofless spaces.

_DS81807It 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.


About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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12 Responses to Turner Contemporary

  1. My granddaughter is studying Mondrian in school (she’s 7, and is lucky enough to go to a school that teaches art!). A few days ago she told me that Mondrian switched from landscapes because he wanted to do something that no one else had done before, and she thought he had done the right thing. (She is not afraid to have an opinion.)

    I told her of your visit to the museum to see Mondrian’s work, and she was quite impressed. Just wanted you to know!

    • LensScaper says:

      Your daughter’s version is the one I like to believe is true – it’s the way I work photographically. We all like to break new ground personally, for the sheer fun of it. But reading the curator’s comments at the exhibition, the shift is associated with Theosophy, Goethe’s theory of colours, an interest in Cubism and a close association with like-minded artists. I guess the answer is that there were many inspirations. This must be some school that your granddaughter goes to, to be introducing Mondrian at age seven – but then a little like Matisse’s Cutouts – you can view these two artists’ work at a very simple uncomplicated level which will always have great appeal to small children. Good to hear from you Melinda. Many thanks.

      • In Texas, public schools “teach the test” – or concentrate only on the state-mandated achievement tests – to the exclusion of teaching things like art or music, and certainly to the exclusion of teaching a love of learning. My granddaughter goes to a private school, which is exempt from those test requirements, and it is a joy to see the sorts of thing she’s learning. (Here she is last year, after she learned about Ansel Adams – http://bit.ly/1qykIk0)

        • LensScaper says:

          She’s a very lucky girl, Melinda. She’s going to have such a well-rounded education compared to so many other kids of her age. There’s a lot to be said for private schooling – it’s an investment in a child’s future. I don’t know how I didn’t catch that post when it was first published.

  2. Chillbrook says:

    Margate was looking pretty sad in my twenties. I wonder if this art gallery will bring a revival. I certainly hope so. Tate St Ives has been tremendously successful but then St Ives hasn’t been in quite the same decline as Margate buoyed up by well heeled Cornwall retirees and summer visitors which, if you’ve been to St Ives recently, are many in their number. I think you mentioned you did visit a few years back and that was your experience. Standing room only in fact.
    Margate I think, because of Londoners flocking to the resort for days out, possibly the only break all year for many of the lower paid, garnered a slightly, dare I say it, more down market reputation. Certainly post war it was a popular destination for working class Londoners. Then there were the infamous biker and scooter bust-ups of the 60’s.
    It’s a shame because it’s a lovely town. I attended my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary here in a lovely Victorian hotel many years ago. I imagine many of those hotels are now filled with DSS bed and breakfast tenants, taken in as a way for the hotels to survive when things took a downturn. Fingers crossed for the future.
    A smashing post Andy. I’m glad you had a great day out.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks so much for that illuminating comment, Adrian. Every resort goes through peaks and troughs. I hope that Margate can rise again. There is evidence of passion to reach out for that re-generation as will become apparent in a post I’m hoping I will get published on monday next. I do have some reservations about the influence of the gallery on this process of change. At present my guess is that many of the people visiting the gallery are there for the gallery alone. They arrive, they see the exhibition, they eat and they leave. And the benefit to the town, of that type of visitor, is minimal. The one important factor that we have to factor in is that there is no charge for entry to the gallery or its special exhibitions. So…how many of the ordinary folk in Margate will venture inside? We need some data on that. I wonder if the gallery has misjudged the food on offer in the gallery cafe. The food is up-market mains at lunchtime. No sandwiches to be seen. It needs to be a little better pitched so as not to seem a little snobbish (maybe that’s not quite the right word) but I’m sure you will get my drift. But you can’t miss the building – it dominates the landscape – curiosity always attracts.

  3. oneowner says:

    This is a gorgeous building. Very simple but also photogenic. I hope the gallery sparks the needed revival of the area. I would go out of my way to visit.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Ken. It grows on me. From some angles it seems a little unimaginative but you cannot ignore it and the interiors are light-filled. I do hope it’s a success.

  4. Wonderful building. I love the last image Andy.

  5. shoreacres says:

    I was curious whether “Margate” was derived from something that meant “gate to the sea.” I was interested to read that it well may have been named for a gate that opened to water — though not the ocean itself.

    I was tickled by your exterior view that included the parking lot. It must have taken you some time to persuade the drivers of red, green yellow and black cars to move elsewhere so you could have cars that complemented the scene!

    As for the museum itself, I’m not so taken — but I’ve been spoiled by my visit last fall to Crystal Bridges in Arkansas. It’s the standard I use for judging museums now. One of its greatest virtues is that everyone can feel comfortable there, including the jeans-and-boots crowd that never have been museum goers.

    I’ve always tended to pass by Mondrian’s work. When I most recently was at Houston’s fine art museum, I noticed they’ve at least two of his paintings hanging in the modern art collection. I’ll have to look more closely next time.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Linda. That’s exactly how the parking lot was, and bizarrely I hadn’t really noticed how suitable the car colours were! Truth to tell, I’ve seen prettier modern architecture: it’s a little severe but the interior space is full of light and that is perhaps the more important feature – how the art is lit and displayed. Crystal Bridges certainly looks impressive.

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