Yesterday we went to Margate for the first time to visit the Turner Contemporary. The first, and main, thing that struck us was the nauseating smell... a terrible rotting, sewage-like stench coming from the beach. It wafted into the ground floor of the gallery and all around the gift shop, and made sitting outside on the cafe terrace really unpleasant. We felt too embarrassed to ask a local if their town always smelt so bad, so I looked it up on Google. Yes, indeed, Margate is well known for its smell of rotting seaweed. It is worse in hot weather, and worst of all in the corner of the harbour where the gallery is sited. Apparently they dredged the seaweed away before the Queen visited the Turner.... why don't they do that all the time?
Next, the building. It reminded me of a ferry embarkation terminal - they have one a bit like it in Dieppe, I think. I expected to go inside and see rows of green plastic seats bolted to the floor, and bored kids shrieking round the vending machines. It looked too stark for its surroundings, and inside felt institutional and bare. Don't get me started on the content. One room was devoted to some bloke's walks, and then there was the Turner exhibition. We are not that keen on Turner anyway, and they seemed to have collected up all his wispiest and most wishy-washy water-colours. When the Turners have gone they will have nothing because there is no permanent collection.
The whole thing has been blown up into a huge, ridiculous hype bubble. They had some quote from a critic up on the wall: 'Magnificent paintings worth crawling on your hands and feet to see'. (Crawling on hands and feet? Knees, surely). I don't think so. OK, so the Turner has free admission but our Jerwood is far, far better, both in architecture and in content. Its view of the junk on the fishing beach is as nothing compared with the awful smell in Margate.
We left the pongy harbour zone behind, and walked up through the town to see the Shell Grotto, which I had always wanted to visit. The grotto was good, but what struck us most was how terribly run down Margate is. Far, far worse than Hastings and St Leonard's - it felt a bit unsafe, and I kept my iphone well hidden from view. Going back to the topic of hype, it really puzzles me how anyone can think that putting a shed on the harbour with a few pictures in it could really fuel the massive regeneration process needed for the town. Poor Margate.
After, we went on to Broadstairs, which I really liked - a wonderfully old-fashioned place with pretty beaches and a lovely 50s lice-cream parlour.
|Margate Shell Grotto|