Monday, 28 July 2014

Margate

Here I am, back from a week of jaunting around the country in almost unbroken sunshine. Early in the week, on an impulse, I went to have a look at Margate, a Kentish coastal resort with a reputation for being thoroughly scuzzy and run-down. The reputation is well earned by the part of town nearest the station (as is so often the way - why do so many towns present their worst side to those arriving by train?). However, as you walk further, along the sweep of what is by any standards an impressive bay with fine sands (on which, as Eliot noted, one can connect nothing with nothing), Margate improves, indeed gets better and better the farther you go. Lots of fine Victorian and Georgian buildings with exuberant seaside detailing, looking out over bay after sandy bay, all bathed in a wonderful light - the light that attracted Turner to Margate year after year...
 The Turner connection is celebrated in the town's landmark (literally) art gallery, the Turner Contemporary, which dominates the harbour. Opened three years ago, it was designed by David Chipperfield and has been described as 'ugly, alien and bleak'. From the outside, especially close up and especially at certain angles, it lives up to that characterisation, and my expectations were not high as I approached - but, once inside, all that changed. What looks from the outside like a random collection of blank boxes turns out to be a space full of light and sky, in which the view out to sea and across the bay becomes, to a quite magical extent, part of the building. The effect is breath-taking.
 In an upstairs gallery (artificially lit, which seems a pity) the exhibition Mondrian & Colour was still under way - an interesting small-scale display of works by Mondrian before, as it were, he became Mondrian. Some of them are very fine, others seem like mere experiments in other artists' styles, and as a whole the exhibition doesn't really explain how Mondrian made the leap to his form of extreme abstraction (represented by a few characteristic works, which certainly give more in reality than they do in reproduction).
 In another gallery - this one making good use of natural light - was an enjoyable little exhibit by Spencer Finch, an American artist I hadn't heard of. This was unfortunately dominated by a large 'cloud' suspended from the ceiling which had something of the air of a Sixth Form art project about it. But there was also a fascinating display along one wall that, at first glance, looked like a row of black squares. These were in fact 60 photographs taken with a fixed camera at one-minute intervals as fog came and went across a swathe of forest. Peering into the images in succession, as the fog clears and thickens again, ghostly trees come in and out of vision and sunlight occasionally breaks through, was a strangely rewarding experience. As indeed was visiting Margate. 
 But enough - I must now step out into the sunshine...

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