April 18th, 2011

Turner Contemporary Museum Debuts in Margate, With the Help of  Local Art Heroine Tracey Emin


The new Turner Contemporary museum opened in the southeastern English town of Margate over the weekend, and, naturally, native-born artist Tracey Emin was on hand on Saturday for the festivities. The Margate native joined a crowd of thousands in inaugurating the the Turner’s rather plain David Chipperfield-designed building, which so far has been met with both accolades and insults. But while the museum isn’t as splashy as Frank Gehry‘s Guggenheim Bilbao, hopes are high that it will raise the profile of this seaside town in a similar fashion.

Emin and musician Jools Holland presided over the opening, with the artist telling the crowds that “art is going to be the strongest and the best thing that has ever happened to Margate,” the BBC reports. The structure cost £17.5 million ($28.5 million) to build and occupies the site of a former boarding house where the English landscape artist J.M.W. Turner (whose prize Emin was notoriously nominated for in 1999) used to stay when visiting and painting the town. The museum was funded by Kent County CouncilArts Council England, and the National Lottery, among others.

Devoted to mounting temporary exhibitions of new art, Turner Contemporary is debuting with a show that brings together a Turner painting of a volcano and work by six contemporary artists:Daniel BurenEllen HarveyConrad ShawcrossRussell CrottyTeresita Fernández, and Douglas Gordon. Emin told the BBC that the museum expected as many as 10,000 visitors over the weekend and that it will have a significant impact on the troubled local economy.

 The project has been in the works for over 20 years. Initially, Norwegian architects Snøhetta and Spence were selected in 2001, but their project was ultimately rejected in 2006 due to fears of skyrocketing costs. Chipperfield’s design resembles, for better or for worse, a cluster of white-fronted sheds on the coast. The London Evening Standard’s Brian Sewell trashed the building as “alien, brutal, and bleak.” But Edwin Heathcote of the Financial Times — while acknowledging that the museum is “not an icon” and that it “looks clunky from a distance” — deems it a success, a “civic space” that takes advantage of the natural light and is “as good a gallery as there is in Britain.” Plus, “unusually for a public building in Britain,” he writes, it was “completed on budget and on time.”