Sunday, 3 May 2015

Where’s Turner?

Last week I paid a visit to The Turner Contemporary in Margate, part of my husband’s birthday treat, and promptly embarked on a game of ‘Where’s Turner?’ It’s a bit like ‘Where’s Wally?’, though with the latter you actually have a chance of finding him!

My husband loves a good art gallery and a good piece of art – he’s a graphic designer and bit of an artist himself – but had not got round to visiting Turner Contemporary. It should have been a great trip out, but I know that he was sadly disappointed.

The first thing that struck us on arrival was the dull design of the building itself. The gallery consists of a series of ‘boxes’ with sloping roofs, which are a very poor representation of the ‘sails’ that we had expected. Rather than enhancing Margate, the structure does it a disservice, as the town actually has some lovely old buildings.

Spot the eyesore!
As it was around lunchtime when we arrived, we decided to check out the café, but were not impressed. We had wanted a light lunch as we had a big dinner planned for the evening, but most of the food served was too substantial (and a bit pretentious), apart from some tired looking baguettes priced at £4.50 each. On to plan B then.

A walk round the harbour revealed a friendly little café where we purchased two toasted sandwiches and two hot drinks for just £7! The sandwiches were delicious, nicely toasted and packed with filling, unlike some of the supermarket offerings that you get. We sat and enjoyed them on the harbour front seating provided, gazing at some of Margate’s more interesting architecture.

Anyway, back to the gallery. The first sight you see on entering is the donation box – admission is, after all, free, but I’m more likely to consider a donation once I’ve seen how the money is being spent. The next sight is the shop – but the gallery is free, so their leaflet assures us!

On the day that we visited, the atrium housed a kind of display of cymbals that you could participate in playing on the hour. Now I know in the art world this was meant to be a poignant piece, but to a mere ‘pleb’ like me let’s face it, it was a bunch of cymbals!

Proceeding along the bottom corridor, we observed a photographic display, by some chap whose name I can’t remember, but which made no impact on me (or my husband) whatsoever. They were no more exciting than viewing Auntie Elsie’s holiday snaps of Torquay.

Venturing upstairs the thing that actually did make a big impact was the large window framing the stunning sea view. Nature’s art at its best, and certainly a reflection on Turner, but where was his work?

The upper floor consists of a series of small galleries and even smaller ‘cinema’ rooms. The current exhibition is entitled ‘Self’ and of course, features an array of self-portraits. The gem of this was the Van Dyck, which I thought was stunning – at last a big thumbs up! Some of the other exhibits were a bit dull, but there were some recognisable pieces from artists such as Hockney and Warhol.

By far, the exhibit that made the most impression on me, in a somewhat haunting way, was Jeremy Millar’s sculpture of his own ‘drowned body’. When I entered the room containing this piece I had to do a double take. I slowly walked up to the ‘body’ not completely convinced that it wasn’t a person that would jump up just as I got near. As gruesome as the subject was, it was extremely effective and a great piece of work!

But where was Turner? Just as we were about to leave the final room, we stumbled upon a small display case containing a fairly disappointing Turner miniature. So small and insignificant that we nearly missed it – and that was it! The audacity of naming a gallery in honour of a great artist and not representing his work or life in any great form!

Sadly our visit was rather disappointing, the exhibits were sparse with so much empty wall space that I was tempted to ask when they planned to finish hanging the paintings! The only saving grace is that we didn’t have to travel that far to get to there.

My verdict – dull, disappointing and an insult to Turner to put his name to it. It was basically a waste of money and prime seafront space, which could have been put to better use to serve the good people of Margate. It earns a Shoppers’ Joy thumbs down!

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