I was born in the same year as David Chipperfield and so I suppose there must be some common ground, I once worked for a different Chipperfield, who ran a fun fair. My main connection with Margate is that I was employed as an engineer working on the various sites owned by Associated Leisure sometime in the early 1970s. This was the firm that owned Dreamland, the Lido and most of the amusement arcades along what used to be known as Margate’s Golden Mile. I have always been fascinated by electromechanical and electronic control of machines and for a while it was amusement machines that interested me.
With this new building opening to the public at the weekend I feel I have some affinity with Margate, the architect and the building, I also have an interest in art and our local architecture, so here goes some sort of post.
Major public architectural structures on the foreshore in Thanet nearly all have an unusual history and The Turner Contemporary has already one of its own, most people will remember Snohetta and Spence's design and the prototype that failed its test when the sea washed it away. After this a much more practical approach to constructing a building on the foreshore was adopted, a proper professional flood risk assessment has been carried out for David Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary so I is unlikely to be washed away, as Margate Pier was. Like it or not here in Thanet we have probably got it for a long time.
I know people have likened it to a shed, a gun emplacement and various other things, when I first saw the design drawings, the first thing that occurred to me was that it looks like a series of heads of K9 without ears. You can’t help what your mind does and perhaps it is best not to mention this sort of thing, but I don’t think it matters here as I don’t think the finished building looks like K9.
In a sense this weekends opening is the third opening of the Turner Contemporary in Margate, as it has previously opened in the old M&S building and The Droit House, lets hope it is a case of third time lucky. The two previous incarnations have seemed to me to be a bit underwhelming, attracting almost no interest at all. I have visited almost all of the exhibitions in both buildings and apart from the people working there I have usually been the only person looking at the exhibition.
With the Droit House I got the feeling that much of what was happening there was fake, the silly walks, the attempts to encompass local history into art which seemed to missing the vital ingredient, a local historian. Perhaps it was the ambience of the building, which is of course a fake itself, the original having been dispatched by Hitler.
Contemporary art and architecture is elitist, and there is a sense that the new building has been designed for the benefit of the elite inside it, from the outside it looks utilitarian, there is I agree some elegance to it when viewed from some angles, but there is no doubt the prime utility is for those inside.
There is also the sense that both contemporary art and architecture generates an emperor’s no clothes situation, this was particularly evident in the Droit House at some times, where there was a very real sense that the staff were being careful not to leave anything about that wasn’t supposed to be art that could be mistaken for art.
There is also a sense in seaside architecture that is intending to be something that it isn’t, the only other famous architect that I know of to design something that was actually built down on the Thanet foreshore was Stanley Davenport Adshead who designed Ramsgate’s Royal Victoria Pavilion, built in 1904. This was supposed to look like Little Theatre at Versailles, like the Droit House we can call this a fake, it was intended to be one from its first inception.
Well Ramsgate’s Royal Victoria Pavilion hasn’t succumbed to Hitler, hasn’t been washed away like the mock up of Turner 1, or the adjacent Margate Pier, but is has become a victim of circumstance, see http://thanetonline.blogspot.com/2010/11/pictures-of-inside-of-royal-victoria.html
My understanding was that the new gallery was going to be coated in glass and glow in the sun, either this hasn’t worked, I haven’t seen it or the idea was dropped for some reason. Has anyone seen it glowing, or isn’t it supposed to?
I think all of the main Thanet blogs have been unkind about the whole idea of building this gallery, this is a quote from Thanet Life, probably Thanet’s oldest blog:
“Why the fiscally challenged planners at Kent County Council in conjunction with Thanet Council, believe that opening a gallery in a famous artist’s name, with none of his paintings on display, will suddenly transform Margate into a cultural Mecca and attract hordes of cultural day-trippers is anyone’s guess.”
Well they have managed one Turner and admittedly it is one of the few Turners not painted from life but based on a sketch by another artist, so once again it is a bit of self confessed fake.
We certainly haven't got what we first expected which was a gallery that looked like a huge pebble on the beach, perhaps the question here is not so much does it look like an art gallery? But will it look like an art gallery? If it becomes famous enough people will look at this shape and think, art gallery, if it fails to then I suppose they will continue to look at this shape and depending on who they are they will think, shed, gun emplacement, K9, this is all something to do with what art is about, that it is something that has changed people from seeing a particular representation of a can of soup and experiencing artistic appreciation instead of. What? Seeing a can of soup.
Just as a further note if you are getting a warning saying that this site has a virus on it today, you need to update your virus checker.