turner contemporary at margate

31 August 2011 § Leave a comment

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The old town centre of Margate has been somewhat revived by the arrival of the adjacent Turner Contemporary. Cafes selling frosted cup-cakes jostle for space with art galleries, vintage shops and boutiques in the historic lanes, old warehouses on the harbour wall are now artists studios. All very pleasant.

Over on the seafront, built on the precise former location of the eponymous landscape painter’s former lodgings, lies the striking new gallery. Dominating the seafront it is an impressive, white angular edifice.

Entering from a courtyard with an attractive cafe there is a feeling of space – there are high ceilings and vast windows overlook the sea with the reflected light that Turner so admired. Daniel Buren has here created a striking striped porthole through which the view can be enjoyed, but there is little more to commend.

Apparently ‘exploring themes of imagination, discovery, wonder and the creative spirit’ inspired by Turner’s painting The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains Douglas Gordon makes some tedious word-play up the stairs to the gallery, globes from Russell Crotty reflect his ‘experience walking many different coastlines’, Conrad Shawcross’ installation is on the theme of a musical chord whilst Teresita Fernandez’s two works ‘explore the relationship between interior space and landscape’ .

Connections with Turner are tenuous to say the least, although Ellen Harvey’s work is rather more relevant and interesting with illuminated copies of Turner engravings created as scenes of contemporary Margate arranged in a darkened space and entitled Arcadia using fairground lettering.

The curators have wasted the momentum of the publicity gained by the new opening on a largely uninspiring display of mediocre work. Here was an opportunity to introduce the very best of contemporary art to a previously under-served area, instead the locals – including the ones I spoke to – are more inclined to call it a gigantic white elephant. Hopefully the next exhibition will be better.

Revealed: Turner Contemporary until 4 September 2011

tracey emin, love is what you want, at the hayward

29 June 2011 § 1 Comment

I was not a big fan of Emin – or even a small fan for that matter. To me she seems to represent the art worlds version of Big Brother. Here is Emin determined to reveal every personal trait, good, bad and ugly to the public who are determined to lap it all up – the more lascivious or embarrassing the better. Life laid bare as entertainment. Reality TV as art.

Nevertheless I was determined to go to this exhibition with an open mind. She has an army of fans in the art and media and they surely must see something compelling in her work. However the omens were not good. I arrived at the usual ‘opening day’ – the day immediately following the private view – but the exhibition, strangely, was ‘closed for a private event’. I eventually got in the following day.

In the catalogue Emin explains that her art is all about words and as we enter we get an awful lot of them, the first galleries occupied by her blankets and neons. The appliqued blankets are very impressive. Large, colourful and eye-catching they are more powerful as a group than individually with words and phrases used cleverly to illustrate a ‘patchwork of memories’ or concerns in the wider world.

Extending across the room is ‘Knowing the Enemy’ –  a partially collapsed pier inspired by a letter written by her father. It is clever and interesting – the broken planking isolating a lonely cabin at the pier’s end. Evocative of longing and loss.

From this point the exhibition sadly goes rapidly downhill. The neons look pretty but putting trite statements like ‘love is all you want’ in neon does not unfortunately make particularly interesting art. A lame film of Emin on horseback wandering around Margate sand is one of several films to avoid. There is a ‘scrap book’ of a room entitled ‘Family and Friends’ with lots of trivial bits and pieces scattered over the wall and reverentially placed in cabinets – I started to try to read and make sense of these sundry fragments but lost the will to live.

In ‘Drawings’ there are various scrawled versions of Tracey masturbating and little else whilst searching desperately for more ‘Room’ topics the Hayward scrape the barrel with ‘Trauma’, ‘Menphis’, ‘Early Work’ (almost non-existent), ‘Sculpture’ (ditto) and ‘Terraces’ (a couple of teddies under benches).

A couple of works were sadly missing – ‘Everyone I ever Slept With’ was destroyed in the Momart fire and ‘Bed’ which Saatchi has kept aside for a 2012 show in Chelsea. Both would have added much to what was ultimately an exhibition rather devoid of strong individual pieces

It is undoubtedly true that many of the works would be lost individually but brought together in to a – sort of – coherent whole they have much more impact. Emin’s art, and life, makes much more sense and the gallery has done a good job of curation. I quite enjoyed the exhibition as an overview of a cultural icon but as for the art I ended up siding with Jake and Dinos Chapman who recently laid in to Emin during an Independent  interview (18 June 2011) ‘I cant stand it. It’s art therapy – it doesn’t belong outside her head.’ ‘Tracey draws very badly .. and everybody claps their flippers together.’  The Chapmans incidentally are preparing for an exhibition at White Cube (opening 15 July 2011) where they have worked apart for several months, the results secret to the gallery and each other – now that I will find interesting.

Tracey Emin Love is all you Need. The Hayward Gallery until 19 August 2011

Jake or Dinos Chapman at White Cube Hoxton Square and Masons Yard. 15 July to 17 September 2011

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