Turner Contemporary opens in Margate

Landmark Kent art gallery looks to historic past to aid regeneration through art

Turner Contemporary opens in Margate

Landmark art gallery looks to historic past to aid regeneration through art

Credit: pic of Turner Contemporary courtesy of Richard Bryant

Down the hill and onto the seafront, suddenly you see the great new landmark for Margate: the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery.

It is sited right on the spot where the artist Joseph Mallard William Turner would visit Sophie Booth in her guest house before he went off to Europe to create his impressive works on nature.

Ironically, despite his great inspiration from nature and its power, the art work featured in Turner Contemporary’s first exhibition to open 16 April is a depiction of a volcano, The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains, in the Island of St. Vincent at Midnight, on 30th April 1812, from a Sketch Taken at the Time by Hugh P. Keane, Esquire, 1815. The painting is a view Turner had never actually seen, yet not less impressive for that, indeed a tribute to artistic imagination.

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Plenty of artistic imagination has also gone into the actual building of this gallery, designed by architect Sir David Chipperfield. From the outside it looks rather like a series of silver boxes, set up against each other, while from inside the space is just delightful.

In the words of press and events officer, Chloe Barker, it is a “beautiful and elegant building”, showing painstaking attention to detail, with a stunning cladding of opaque glass which permits different perspectives and a variety of colours depending on the light and the weather. 

It is one of just two buildings that Chipperfield has created in the UK, the other being the Hepworth in Wakefield, opening in May. The architect is renowned for his restoration and recreation of the Neues Museum in Berlin and the American Cup Pavilion in Valencia, amongst many other projects worldwide.

It is a great tribute that he should have created this building in Margate. The building faces out over the North Sea, with the north light reputedly favourite of painters and specific to the Thanet coast, in the south of England. For Turner, the skies were reportedly “the best of all Europe”.

The gallery spaces, part of the 2,865 square metre gross floor area (the entire site comprises 6,570 square metres), are all carefully lit with natural light from high windows. A 20� slant to the roof is designed to capture it. The six individual galleries are the now almost traditional contemporary (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) white cube, clear open spaces with white-painted walls. Although there has been “a mixed bag” of responses from the people of Margate, Chloe tells me that the building is generally viewed as giving hope to the area.

The opening exhibition, Revealed, will take as its point of departure Turner’s volcano depiction and include three important new commissions which will be varied contemporary responses from artists of international repute.

They are: Michael Craig-Martin, whose piece will remain on permanent display, greeting visitors on arrival, Conrad Shawcross, Ellen Harvey, Daniel Buren, Russell Crotty, Teresita Fernandez, and Douglas Gordon. The works are installations. You will be able to walk into Ellen Harvey’s work. Conrad Shawcross is influenced by science, with Daniel Buren doing a site-specific work.  Russell Crotty will present a series of suspended globes covered in meticulous drawings, which depict land- and sea-scapes. Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens will also include two works by Teresita Fern�ndez: Sfumato uses pieces of graphite and drawing on the wall to depict a rising cloud of smoke, while the floor piece Eruption represents the mouth of a volcano as seen from above in glass beads.

Finally, the exhibition will include Douglas Gordon’s After Turner, a poetic text piece responding to Turner’s mythic final words: ‘The sun is God.”

The exhibition will continue until 4 September, to be followed by Nothing in the World but Youth, “an exhibition exploring how youth experience has been reflected in art, culture and the media from the late 19th century to present day”. Each exhibition will include a work by Turner, who has of course been the inspiration for the gallery, with an eponymous exhibition in January next year.

There will always be a Turner painting in the shows which are programmed about two years in advance, by a team that includes Victoria Pomery, the Director, the Head of Commissioning, and Head of Exhibitions, Sarah Martin, as well as Lauren Wright, who meet fortnightly for discussion and research into new shows.

The opening show will also synchronise with Folkestone’s Triennial this summer, and cooperation between the two organisations aims at cross-marketing and encouraging visitors to the two south eastern areas, to encourage people not just to visit Margate.

In the first year, it is hoped to encourage 150,000 visitors, with 143,000 in the following year. A new website has been relaunched and public programming with a rich educational programme and many ticketed public events aim to draw people in.

Turner Contemporary has well-established links with Thanet-based schools with much outreach with schools and with the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury.

The educational programme to be launched in the summer will be for children of all ages, aiming to dovetail into broad-based learning for life, going beyond art. There has also been significant work with the artists of the area, forming Margate Creative, to move forward and stimulate art and the galleries in the Old Town.

On the day I visited, the North Sea was a vibrant area of shipping, the light bright. The cafeteria area is attractive, with inspiring terraces overlooking the sea. I am thrilled that such a beautiful gallery space should be within reach and without going into central London and can’t wait to see all the exhibitions, regularly, every four months.


Turner Contemporary, 18 The Parade, Margate CT9 1EY

01843 294208 and follow events on Twitter @TCMargate, Facebook and Flickr.


Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens

Saturday 16 April 2011 – 4 September 2011

Opening exhibition features six major international artists, including four important new commissions.

Nothing in the World but Youth

17 September 2011-8 January 2012

An exhibition exploring how youth experience has been reflected in art, culture and the media from the late 19th century to the present day.

Hamish Fulton

14 January-13 May 2012

His first one-person show in the UK since 2002, will include new work made as the result of group walks in Kent commissioned by Turner Contemporary.

Turner and the Elements

28 January-13 May 2012

For more information, tel: 01843 294208

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