Turner Contemporary opens its doors and shines the light on Margate

By Richard Moss | 15 April 2011
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a photo of a window with people in front of it
Inside Turner Contemporary © Richard Moss
It is said that JMW Turner liked to sample the delights of Margate primarily for its exemplary light. If that were indeed the case then Britain’s most famous painter would undoubtedly approve of the town’s new gallery bearing his name.

Turner Contemporary opens its doors to the public this weekend on April 16 with a £17.4 million David Chipperfield-designed space that allows the Margate light to flood in through its huge sea facing windows. 

It’s been billed as one the largest and most important new art spaces outside of London, and the new gallery perched on a plinth on Margate seafront with six interlocking rectangular forms clad in an glimmering opaque glass, certainly makes an impact. 

But it’s inside where the real wow factor is to be found. With the light flooding in through the double height galleries, Margate has got itself a spectacular space in which to display and enjoy art.

There is no significant permanent collection but rather an ambitious series of planned exhibitions and, thanks in part to a partnership with Tate, a continuing exploration of the works of JMW Turner, who we are promised “will always be on display”.       

The inaugural show revolves around a Turner painting, a little known rendering of a volcanic eruption on St Vincent, that signals an intention to develop an exhibition programme that combines contemporary and historical work.

a photo of a seafront with a large white building in the distance
© Richard Bryant / Arcaidimages.com
Artists including Russel Crotty, Ellen Harvey and Conard Shawcross are currently in situ with a series of engaging new commissions that either take Turner and Margate and reinterpret them or use them as jumping off points for new investigations.  

It’s been a long time coming and Turner Contemporary has a lot riding on it – not least the potential to help the regeneration of a rundown seaside town.

The gallery’s chair of Trustees, John Kampfner described its opening as a “tremendous opportunity for Margate”.

“This is a local gallery," he added, "situated here in Margate, but it is a national gallery of international status that has the potential to impact on the social and economic regeneration of the area.” 

It’s a theme picked up by prominent local backer Tracey Emin who said the gallery had already “given people hope that things are going to change… and also put Margate back on the map.”

Whether the pubs opposite will be preparing menus of tapas and sushi just yet remains to be seen, but with around 5,000 visitors expected in its opening weekend, Turner Contemporary has already brought a welcome sense of light, hope and renewal to the North Kent coast. 
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