Sunday, 11 August 2013

Review: The Turner Contemporary, Margate

The Turner Contemporary overlooks the sea

The following day yielded a trip to Margate with the seaside town well within reach of a day trip from London on the Kent coast. In my day job at Retail Week, we've covered high street campaigner Mary Portas' attempts to breathe life into a once bustling town extensively. Having interviewed Portas several times I can attest that her passion appears genuine and can entirely understand why her efforts in Margate, which descended into conflict with local residents, were so frustrating. 

There is clearly the basis for a thriving economy in Margate. The swish cafes and second hand shops of Cliftonville and behind the harbour square point to the kind of middle class haven that Whitstable offers for visitors up the coast while its sandy beach should be thronging on an August day. 

But the facade of empty arcades and abandoned lidos along the seafront belie a town which has not been able to take advantage of the cringingly titled Staycation movement of the last few years while other British seaside towns have boomed. 

The gallery was opened in 2011
The Turner Contemporary, situated by the harbour, was seen as a key in Margate's regeneration when it opened in April 2011 and it's easy to see why. Filled with the cafe, gift shop and sleek concrete architecture and every successful modern gallery, the gallery has received over a million visitors since opening. 

The current exhibition on Curiosity proves excellent, if a little freaky a times. Visitors are greeted by a literal sheepdog while the penguin and peacock melded together by Thomas Grünfield could also yield nightmares, evoking memories of the League of Gentleman beast. 
Thomas Grünfield's Penguin Peacock

There's also some original Latin Leonardo Da Vinci scripts and a room entirely dedicated to Swiss art including some ghoulish traditional masks which were apparently treated with disdain by the Swiss government as well as cards asking visitors what their curiosity is. After neatly asking how exactly a swan does break a man's arm, I head for the exit impressed by the gallery. Less impressive is patron and local Tracey Emin's scrawled artwork on vinyl on a shop opposite. 

Naturally it's a little condescending to diagnose a town's ills as a Londoner however there is a feeling that Margate could easily return to its former glory if a cultural and generational shift is willing to embrace it. And who's to say sleek, modern art cannot be at the centre of that?

An unusual greeting

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