Outside is a sandy beach on which, when the tide is out, children will create patterns in the sand and build sandcastles and other structures, until washed away by the sea. Inside, a rake rotates continually across a circular bed of sand creating lines and then smoothing them out, over and over again, a smaller version of Mona Hatoum’s “+ and –” (1994-2004) currently at Tate Modern in London. Also outside, Richard Long’s “Ebb Tide Circle” (2016) on the concrete wall has the effect of white water spinning out washing down onto the paving below, while above the staircase inside David Batchelor’s disco balls shaped from sunglasses hang in “Mini-Disco_Margate” (2008-16).
The link between these works is the circle and the many different ways that artists have adopted, adapted and used circular forms in their work in “Seeing Round Corners” at Turner Contemporary in Margate.
Conceived and curated by artists David Ward and Jonathan Parsons, the exhibition brings together an international selection of work ranging over several millennia, from an Egyptian statuette of Isis and Horus with the solid disk representing the sun and the Nurenburg Chronicle of 1473 illustrating the world as a series of concentric circles, through modern times to the present day. The range of artists is breath-taking, including Leonardo di Vinci, William Blake, JMW Turner himself, Sonia Delaunay, Langlands and Bell, Ian Davenport, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Brigit Riley, Alexander Calder, Paul Nash, Gabriel Orozo and Barry Flanagan whose “Seeing Round Corners” (1967) has given its name to the exhibition. It’s not just visual circles that are included: the arc of time is here, as in Hatoum’s work, but also with Napoleon’s carriage clock and sundial and Liza Milroy’s “A Day in the Studio” (2000) which illustrates the cyclical and repetitive nature of daily activities.
The painter JMW William Turner (1775 – 1851) stayed in Margate for a period when he was 11 years old and often visited the town throughout his life, residing in a guest house overlooking the sea, on the site of which Turner Contemporary stands today.
Opened five years ago and designed by David Chipperfield, the six building blocks of this £13 million building provide a series of flexible spaces while enabling visitors to experience the same views and light that Turner would have enjoyed. Designed to achieve a sustainability rating of BREEAM Very Good, the use of natural light is optimised, within the limits of conservation, with daylight through mono-pitch roofs and controlled sunlight filtering through the rooflights.
In terms of wider sustainability, the building is designed to respond to the needs of a wide spectrum of artistic, local and community groups and, along with “Seeing Round Corners” is an exhibition of winners and highly commended from an art competition organised for local schools and colleges, around the theme of the main exhibition and which has talented work from these potential future artists.
The site is challenging, not least because of the climatic conditions. The glass cladding had to be designed to resist the corrosive effect of the sea, while the windows are strengthened to deal with the harsh weather conditions, which may occasionally include waves crashing over the whole height of the building even though it is raised on a plinth to respond to exceptional tidal flooding.
Has Turner Contemporary been a success? The current exhibitions certainly suggest so, which are in addition to Yinka Shonibare’s “British Library and “End of Empire” on the ground floor and there is a real buzz of activity and interested commentary by visitors. Turner Contemporary is indeed providing an international-quality art programme to Margate and the wider region and is contributing to the development of future talent and to Kent’s economic and cultural success.