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Spotlight On: Turner Contemporary in Margate

16 May 2018 | Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Turner Contemporary gallery opened in 2011 in the seaside town of Margate in Kent. Designed by world-renowned architect, Sir David Chipperfield, the gallery is located next to the harbour and sits in striking contrast to the surrounding architecture.

The gallery takes its name from celebrated painter J.M.W. Turner. Though a London native, after Turner’s mother became increasingly unwell from mental illness, he was sent away to various places in the UK, including to school in Margate. Margate then became a safe haven for the painter, and he regularly spent time there from the 1820s, later becoming a frequent guest to a house owned by a woman named Mrs Booth, who was both his landlady and, as the years went on, his companion. Turner died in Margate in 1851. For the prolific painter, Margate provided the most beautiful and inspiring skies for works that often represented the coastal landscape and the sea.  In homage to Turner, the gallery is now situated in the same place where Mrs Booth’s guest house once stood, providing a link between the Margate of old and new.

Image Credit: only lines via Flickr

The gallery was the aspiration of local resident John Crofts who wanted to create a space dedicated to Turner’s legacy in the seaside town. Along with other residents of Margate, he planned a centre that would not only highlight this historic link, but also offer a contemporary art programme. The Turner Contemporary was officially established in 2001.
The building itself is remarkable for its spaciousness, its use of light and for its views of the harbour and the sea.  Architect Sir David Chipperfield responded to Turner’s famous use of light by incorporating lots of glass into the design of the building. The gallery is made up of six equally-sized glass rooms over two floors. These rooms are naturally lit by huge glass windows, so the maritime weather becomes central to the experience of being in the gallery.

Though the gallery is undoubtedly intertwined with the legacy of one of Britain’s most celebrated painters, it also hosts a rolling programme of exhibitions of work from home and abroad. Since August 2017 for example, the gallery has hosted a sculpture that makes use of its idiosyncratic locale. Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Time’ is a project of 100 solitary figures, who have been transported and installed in galleries around the world. One of these individual statues stands on Fulsam Rock and is, for much of the day, submerged in the sea itself. The statue is only visible around 3 hours before low tide but the gallery website provides a timetable so visitors can plan accordingly.  This lonely cast iron figure looks further out to the sea, seemingly contemplating its position on the rock, whilst also stoically enduring its daily immersion in the water.

Image Credit: ij clark via Flickr

The gallery also hosts the work of two contemporary Chinese artists, Yin Xiuzhen and Duan Jianyu, as a part of a collaborative programme NOW. This programme aims to highlight the work created by female artists in modern-day China and is created in collaboration with a host of other galleries including the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester and the Nottingham Contemporary.  Visitors can view Yin Xiuzhen’s installation entitled ‘Digestive Cavity’ and a small group of Duan Jianyu’s large scale paintings. Both exhibitions draw attention to the interesting and important work currently being undertaken by a new generation of Chinese artists.

Turner Contemporary is in Margate. Entrance free.
 

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