A Tale of Two Galleries
On Friday I visited the new Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. It has recently opened at a cost of over £17 million. In Llanfrynach, in Powys, their new gallery opened in a £1 old red phone box. Two extremes, but should I compare one with the other?
The Turner is slightly misnamed. There is just one Turner painting there at the moment but that is borrowed from Liverpool. It is named the Turner because it stands on the spot where he stayed. Whether people will visit it because of that misnaming remains to be seen but on its opening weekend it had 14,000 visitors, 40% more than was expected. Inside it has no collections of its own to speak of but contains “travelling exhibitions.” That has advantages in that you see something new each time there is a change. The downside is that it has no character of its own. You cannot visit because the X collection is there or for Kentish seascapes or for something local. So really it is a gallery that just happens to be in then town.
Inside there are comparatively few exhibits for such a largish building. There are big spaces for education (ie children playing around and being creative) and rooms for private hire. The entrance lobby is large as is the shop and the café. Those exhibits that are there are spread around the open warehouse type space. Too little to justify a visit said some visitors and I tend to agree. The most striking thing is what has probably become its logo. A giant, yellow striped circle on its ground floor window which reached up to the next floor. With a mirror at one end reflecting what can be seen outside that prompted most of the photography by the visitors.
Unlike Llanfrynach where a giant yellow circle wouldn’t be remotely feasible in the telephone box. But unlike Margate there has been no criticism of the cost. Each glass pane of the kiosk is covered with images to symbolise the declining needs of the phone boxes. I certainly can’t remember the last time I used one. Like Margate, this will have no home collection (where would they store it?) so the exhibition will change. But in terms of novelty value it has gained publicity for the village and didn’t cost an arm and a leg to set up.
Which would attract you? A warehouse, open plan structure containing not much or a crammed telephone box?