I drove past the white glassy building a couple of times, paying it scant attention. I was keeping an eye out for the Turner Contemporary, which I’d come to Margate to visit. Then I found out that this was the Turner, the supposed statement building. Well, despite its slanting rooves, it didn’t speak loudly to me.
The night before, walking to an Indian restaurant, I had wondered why some spinning lights were being projected onto the building. I now know that it was the obligatory snazzy artistic touch to a gallery that’s too modern to be called the Turner Gallery (Contemporary is much more contemporary).
Inside, this recent addition to north Kent’s hitherto threadbare cultural landscape seems just another minimalist gallery, with big reception desk and gift shop in an airy open plan layout. The large sea-facing window offers a view of parked cars and sea. Upstairs, in the Balcony Gallery, things become more interesting. The window offers a painterly expanse of sea, a solitary platform on a pole poking out of the water. Unless I walked closer to the edge of the balcony and looked down, I couldn’t see the handful of cars parked on drab grey concrete.
And upstairs is also where the main temporary exhibition starts. At the moment it’s Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and J.M.W. Turner. It hangs works by an American artist whose exhibiting career began in 1950, alongside those by the great English painter who exhibited his last works in 1850, exactly a century earlier.
The connection is a little tenuous. So many painters have produced Abstract works or had abstract tendencies, even if (like Turner) they aren’t conscious of it. But where Turner is in real abstract mode, such as in his watercolour on paper titled ‘A colour wash underpainting with diffused cloud form’, we can see the Frankenthaler link. Particularly when we turn to her acrylic on canvas ‘Barometer’: this large-scale work of thick grey and white paint puts us in mind of turbulent waves or stormy skies.
Her ‘Lush Spring’, on the other hand, belongs to the Jackson Pollock school of splodgy painting. Thank goodness for the title. Without the reference to seasons and nature, the dark green and dirty mottled light green strokes would be mystifying.
But I found the exhibition illuminating, on the whole, and it introduced me to an artist (Frankenthaler) new to me. Even the building rose to the occasion: looking again at the exterior, this time from the far side, it appeared larger, and so more impressive. But a few more twists and curves and idiosyncracies would have varied the rectangular uniformity.