The English seaside pretty much is a busted flush as far as economic buoyancy is concerned…and that was the case even before the current ‘triple dip’ (I know technically it isn’t so but I like the sound of it and anyway it may as well be so far as the naked eye can detect…). And this weird and shabby ambience is especially evident is a place like Ramsgate. Not that on a good day it doesn’t have charm…Tuesday last was one such day (see above). It was second stop on our trip, just for a few minutes to stretch our legs and say we’d been there. Nowadays it’s one pretty much on its own in terms of the ‘South Coast Art Offer’, Margate has Turner Contemporary – sadly it seems Ramsgate never got a ‘big name’ – and then going round the bottom comes Towner in Eastbourne, De La Warr in Bexhill and Jerwood in Hastings.
Mixed feelings really about Turner Contemporary…there’s no denying the attractiveness of the location at the end of the wide and rather handsome bay that once made Margate the premier (indeed the first) Seaside town. And the architecture acts as an effective punctuation to the existing buildings that cluster around the base of the breakwater. The entrance and the cafe, especially on a sunny day, reflect the water appropriately and the interior spaces show both respect for location and views whilst also providing good interior spaces for contemporary work.
Inside the shows were something of a mixed bag…with the main gallery space devoted to a modest selection of Carl Andre’s work in the form of a mini retrospective. It is amusing to think that back in the day he created such controversy and indeed outrage (duly documented here). Now his work seems refined and polite and ever so slightly obvious. Those cedar block pieces still look handsome enough and ‘fit’ into the historical narrative whilst the floor pieces are pretty much well crafted exemplars of material display. Perhaps more challenging are the text works, part visual art, part concrete poetry, that seem more in tune with recent art practice being more romantic and quixotic than the classical physical work. To my mind the show was a fair romp through his output but a wee bit too cool and self satisfied to be a real treat…and I could have lived without the guff quote from Andre (see it here) that provided the seemingly obligatory nod to the Turner connection. In the other gallery the ‘lets make this connect to Turner’ trope really got going…a set of Turner’s ‘Powerpoint’ slides (my friend Simon’s rather witty assessment of the sheets of drawings and sketches that he used to illustrate his RA lectures) were displayed to counterpoint Italo-German artist Rosa Barba’s exhibition where they were “connecting Barba’s exploration of different viewing positions with Turner’s much earlier investigations”. Her show was an occasionally (very occasionally) fun run around current art student preoccupations with analogue film…I’d go on but read this if you can bear it.
What the Gallery lacked, especially as a genuine regeneration visitor attraction, was any address to either Turner properly or to art of the kind that will bring in regular and repeat visits. In an apologetic aside (on the ground floor next to the loos) were three rather nice twentieth century paintings related to (broadly) the location – a Jeffrey Camp, a lovely Ivon Hitchens (are there any other kind) and an artist not previously known to me Thelma Hulbert. More like these would bring in the punters!
Oh and where does Raymond Baxter, he of the BBC,motor racing correspondent and latterly Tomorrow’s World presenter, fit into all this…would you believe he was Carl Andre’s Uncle…go figure?!