Review: Art works of every shape, size and medium in The Open at Turner Contemporary

The Open at Turner Contemporary

If you’ve ever thought that Turner Contemporary isn’t for you, The Open might be the exhibition to change your mind. It includes work of every shape and size, in every medium imaginable, and bold, edgy works sit alongside images of familiar local landmarks.

For The Open, Turner Contemporary’s usual curators stepped aside and took a supporting role, allowing Learning Producer Dee Ajiba to work with four community groups to select work. Age UK, Margate Pride, Canvas 4 Equality, and Turner Contemporary’s own Access Group were given a room each. And four people from each group acted as curators.

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

They were given over 4000 works to choose from, after a well-publicised call for artists of any age to submit work in any medium. Working online during lockdown, the volunteer curators whittled the work down to a more manageable 450  – still far more than the gallery would usually hang. And they worked with the gallery’s curators and technicians to install them.

The Open includes the widest range of work ever shown at the gallery, from a delicate watercolour of the white cliffs to a huge, graffitied concrete lion, and from a child’s drawing to a Tracey Emin masterpiece.

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

Each of the four rooms has a distinct style, and its own character. Age UK occupy the Clore Studio with its dramatic sea view, and their work is about everyday life, and the journey from young to old. They have brought together an eclectic set of works, creating a delightful jumble, in which every visit will undoubtedly reveal a new gem.

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

Next door the Access Group’s room is full of familiar places – Dreamland, Margate Main Sands, the seafront at Broadstairs, the Lido, and Turner Contemporary itself all feature. The room is a gentle space that evokes the seaside, and makes space for craft and learned skill. There is pottery, glass work, and sculpture – including a delicious bust of Tracey Emin by Madam Tussauds artist David Burks.  It pointedly looks away from a painting by Tracey Emin herself.

Canvas 4 Equality have gone big and bold with their gallery, which has walls in lime green and vibrant pink. The youthful curatorial team have celebrated the area’s black and ethnic communities in particular. The centrepiece is the huge concrete lion mentioned previously, commenting on the British Empire and for residents, perhaps invoking memories of the Powell-Cotton Museum. Two large paintings by Charlie Evaristo Boyce, of his ancestors, invoke similar memories of past times. Selecting less work than the other groups, this room feels the most like a usual Turner Contemporary show.

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

The last room, hung by Margate Pride, is the furthest from the usual. It is a riot of colour, with a mass of about 150 works hung in groups on pink and turquoise walls, and scattered on plinths or on the floor. The work is rude, expressive, and often funny. A pair of chairs have become overweight people, sculptures are explicit, and paintings include the full range of body parts. A crude painting by Rose Wylie, at three metres wide, should dominate the room, but is almost lost in the colourful carnival of chaos.

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

Finally, the small Irene Willett Gallery space was shared by all four groups, and includes a selection of bold and colourful works. It’s a much-needed decompression chamber between Margate Pride’s room and the outside world.

While every group has taken a very different approach, and each room is distinct, the whole show works well together. The unifying spirit is a love of art, a celebration of the joy of creativity, a delight in the act of making, and an excitement about the chance to curate Turner’s galleries.

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

This shows celebrates Kentish work, and is firmly rooted in the county. It covers a wide spectrum of styles, a broad spread of techniques, and while not all of it will appeal to everyone, there is certain to be something for anyone who wants to find it.

Amongst the works visitors can find many from talented Thanet artists and photographers including photographers Eleanor Marriott, from Ramsgate and Frank Leppard, from Margate, artists Mick Cairns, Lesley Gray and Suzanne Curtis, all from Ramsgate, installation Departures by Margate artist and editor, Jessica Jordan-Wrench and Broadstairs-based printmaker, Ieuan Edwards as well as work from an artist from the Traveller community, Phien O’Phien.

For painter Mick Cairns it is doubly local as his painting of Reculver Towers is based on a photo by fellow exhibitor Frank Leppard!

Mick said: “I painted it from a photograph taken by Frank Leppard, with his permission, which he said this phenomenon only happens a few days of the year, but it shows just how beautiful our world is, especially here in Thanet, it’s no wonder that Turner loved the sky’s here.
I feel very proud to have my painting chosen to be exhibited.”

Photo Isabelle De Ridder

The exhibition opens today (Saturday 23 October) and runs until Sunday 20 February 2022.