Margate has many faces. Originally a fishing village, from the 19th century onwards it quickly developed into a luxurious seaside destination up until the arrival of package holidays in the 1970s, when its attraction slowly declined. Its famous amusement park, Dreamland, was built in 1880 and stands for this glorious past. On the opposite end of the bay, Turner Contemporary gallery opened its doors in 2011: two very different symbolic buildings of this resort town. More recently Margate has been attracting artists from London, drawn to cheaper studio spaces and living arrangements, lower production costs and other facilities that are now more and more difficult to access. Right in the middle of town, the studio complexes and project spaces Limbo and Crate host artists and exhibitions. More established artists have also moved here, notably painter Sophie von Hellermann, who benefited from more space and also the northern light, that same light that fascinated the romantic painter J. M. W. Turner 230 years ago.
Right by the sea front, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, Turner Contemporary has a dynamic programme of around four exhibitions a year and audiences include at least 7% of visitors who have never been to a gallery before. On the terrace of the gallery is a commissioned piece by sculptor Jyll Bradley, Dutch/Light (Agneta Block). Glass frames are leaned against a south wall to maximise the light and heat, a development imported from the Dutch after the Anglo-Dutch War in 1667. The work creates light geometric patterns accordingly to the times of the day. By the front of the space, Antony Gormley’s Another Time is located on the shore.
The current show Animals & Us (running until the 30 September 2018) investigates our relationship with animals throughout the history of art, symbolism, scientific research and environmental issues. Egyptian sculptures from the third century BC; Turner’s studies of farm animals, fundamental to an agricultural society; the works of Dame Laura Knight, one of Britain’s leading circus painters in 1920s; Candida Höfer’s photographs of caged animals in zoos and many other works; the show brilliantly makes us think about our relation to nature and how important it is to preserve it.
Laura Ford’s A King’s Appetite (the Giraffe) from 2017 is a life-sized sculpture of a giraffe, referencing the desire of King George IV to own one of these extraordinary creatures. Other works address the spiritual and totemic power of animals. A video represents the seminal performance by Joseph Beuys I Like America and America Likes Me from 1974, where he locked himself in a New York gallery with a coyote for three days. Referencing the symbolism of the coyote for indigenous American people, Beuys’ piece reflected his trouble relationship with the United States.
The exhibition is, amongst many themes, a way to seriously think about our role in the preservation of species. “Global policymakers have long tried and failed to reconcile the needs of humans to nature but without nature our survival is not guaranteed”, stated John Sauven, the director of Greenpeace UK.
Other cultural initiatives have followed the more established institution of Turner Contemporary. The Open School East, originally founded in 2013 in East London and since 2017 based in Margate, offers free art training, academic support, mentoring and professional development to a group of artists each year. Former alumni include Benedict Drew, Marguerite Humeau and Paul Maheke, whose performances the Contemporary Art Society has recently bought for the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Anna Colin, one of the founders and directors of the Open School East, tells us about the series of events that include different communities as part of the programme, interested in a kind of art that can be shared and experienced by all.
Parallel to such crucial educational activities, commercial galleries are soon to open large spaces right in the centre of town. Tracy Emin decided to bring her sculpture studio to Margate, where she grew up. “I do not want to wake up to London, I want to wake up and be inspired by the same things that inspired Turner”, she once said. This will be located in an old printmaking factory alongside two new gallery spaces run by Carl Freedman and Jonathan Viner, bringing a whole new commercial dimension to the seaside town. Scheduled to be ready by 2019 when Turner Contemporary will host the prestigious Turner Prize, it will be another perfect opportunity to visit the many facets of Margate.
Ilaria Puri Purini
Curator of Programmes
Turner Contemporary, Rendezvous, Margate, CT9 1HG. Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00 – 18.00. Exhibition continues until 30 September 2018. www.turnercontemporary.org