So there it is, the new Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. Open for just over a year this purpose-built art gallery is the largest exhibition space in the south-east outside London, and is part of the Arts Council (England) “string of pearls” (the other are The Jerwood in Hastings (newly opened this year), The De La Warr in Bexhill, The Towner, Eastbourne (new gallery opened in 2009) and Pallant House Gallery in Chichester (refurbished and reopened in 2006). The Turner Contemporary is a massive building built on the site of the boarding house where the great J M W Turner stayed when he visited the town, which he did frequently during his lifetime. One of the things that Turner liked so much about the town is the “Big Sky” and when you stand outside the gallery and look across the seafront out to sea it is easy to understand exactly why. The interior of the gallery has a similar feel to it, it feels enormous, cavernous even.
The current exhibition is a solo show of new work by Tracey Emin (probably Margate’s most famous daughter) and is called “She lay down deep beneath the sea” and refers to Emin’s own feelings while dealing with the death of her father. The exhibition fills all four gallery spaces with drawings of a recumbent female nude, stripped back to the bare essential lines. Emin herself likens these to cave drawings because of the speed at which they were created. There are a lot of these images, an awful lot and they are all basically the same image drawn over and over again, because, we are told by the accompanying exhibition guide leaflet, Emin feels the need to explore the image (naturally they are of herself) over and over again in case something new is revealed. Indeed, one could speculate that after almost 30 years of drawing herself recumbent with legs splayed there surely can’t be anything left to discover. Showing alongside these drawings (which are all in blue) are some large embroidered pieces which are scaled up versions of some of the smaller drawings and which personally I found these stitched pieces far more interesting than the small drawings. The exhibition includes some erotic drawings by Rodin, Picasso and JMW Turner alongside the work by Emin, which she has specially selected herself. We are confidently informed by the exhibition guide that these drawings demonstrate Emin’s skills and sensitivity to classical drawing techniques thus giving us, the viewer another view of her practice; but does it really, or is this just yet more “Art Bollocks” to justify what is essentially a showing of badly drawn ‘doodles’ but no-one is prepared to stand up and say so.
Emin’s work is narcissistic, her entire oeuvre is solely about herself and her sexuality which over the years she has shared with the world a great many details in sometimes toe curling graphic detail. I suppose that really one has to ask the question is Emin really a “Great” artist, and by great I mean is her work enduring in the way that work by Picasso, Turner, Rembrandt et al is enduring? Don’t get me wrong, I do actually admire some of her work and while an art student I studied her work in some depth. I think for me, that there was simply too much of the same thing on show and the space is physically far too large to display what is essentially very intimate work.
So really it’s not a thumbs up or thumbs down, I have to sit on the fence for this one. While I am not really able to enthuse and encourage people to go and see it, I do feel that if you happen to be in or near Margate and have a spare hour, you should see it and make your own mind up. After all, that’s what Art is really all about.
Looking in to the main foyer at the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate.
Another Big Sky, Turner would have loved these clouds, especially as 5 minutes later the heavens opened and torrential rain fell!