Peter Moore attends the opening of Tracey Emin's new exhibition in Margate and discovers what she loves most about Britain's original seaside resort
Tracey Emin is holding court in front of the huge plate glass walls of the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. Both the sky and the sea are looking uncharacteristically blue, a blue not dissimilar to the shade used in the drawings that form part of She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, the exhibition she is opening.
“You're seeing Margate at its best,” she says, waving expansively towards the sea behind her.
Emin has become synonymous with Margate. She spent her childhood and teenage years here, a period she has described as her 'misspent youth'. She has already called us 'DFLs' – Down From London – and regaled us to look beyond the stunning new art gallery and the hip boutiques of the Old Town.
“If you want a real dirty weekend, don't go to Brighton,” she cackles. “Come to Margate!”
Here are her other suggestions for getting the most out of her old home town.
Built on the site of the boarding house JMW Turner used to stay in with his mistress, this landmark gallery has had 540,000 visitors since opening in April 2011. Designed by David Chipperfield Architects and situated next to the lifeboat station, it is a striking addition to the sea front.
“A lot of people refer to it as the shed because of its shape,” admits Emin. “I think that's a bit cruel. It's just very, very simple.”
The gallery has provided a focus for artistic regeneration and Emin praised the local authority for giving the gallery free admission.
“It has such a great knock-on effect,” she said.
She also admitted it's a great place to shelter when the inevitable wind and rains come.
Auguste Rodin's famous sculpture, voted the nation's favourite work of art in 2003, is on display at the Turner Contemporary until September 2012.
Exhibited in an airy space with a vast view of sea and sky behind it through a glass wall, it sits alone, commanding your attention.
“In the spring tides, and sometimes in winter, you can have 30 foot waves here splashing up over the promenade behind it,” says Emin. “It's just really provocative and wonderful.”
It is said that JMW Turner came to Margate for two things. His mistress Mrs Booth. And the sunsets. Indeed, he told critic John Ruskin that the skies over Thanet were “the loveliest in all of Europe.”
“You can see Margate sunsets in a lot of his paintings, even those not about Margate,” says Emin. “The Prussian Blue skies and the Peach Melba streaks of light.”
Tracey Emin is a big fan of local surf-pop band, Two Wounded Birds and asked them to work on an exhibition with her.
"It's nice to have something that helps people appreciate creativity,” says lead singer Johnny Danger. “Margate used to be a bit of a ghost town and now these small businesses have arrived, starting to build a community. We've always stood out here, but now there are people starting to appear from under the floorboards – galleries opening and impromptu acoustic things."
Part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, Tracey Emin's exhibition She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea is her first exhibition in Margate, the inspiration behind many of her most famous art works.
“I do feel really positive about this show, because even if people don't like it, I like it,” says Emin. “There's so much new work, and I thought I was setting myself up for a fall, but I wanted to do something exceptional because it is Margate.”
The exhibition explores the themes of love, sex and eroticism, of course and includes drawings, mono prints, sculptures, tapestries, embroideries and neons.
She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea is at the Turner Contemporary Margate from 26 May – 23 September 2012. It is part of the London 2012 Festival, a spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK. Admission is free. For more details visit the Turner Contemporary website.
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