If something's going to drag you to the seaside in February, that something might be art. That and a £10 return rail ticket, courtesy of Mary Portas (available weekends only until the end of the month). It certainly won't be the weather. Margate on Sunday was the very definition of bracing, the sandy beach empty apart from a few stalwart families and dogwalkers [photo]. In not many amusement arcades on the seafront, not many teens were amused [photo]. A few shoppers hung around doorways in the High Street, where nobody yet seems sure what to do with the old Woolworths [photo]. In the Old Town a handful of visitors frequented the handful of boutiques and cafes that had bothered to open up for trading. But on the foreshore by the Harbour Arm, providing respite from the elements, the galleries at the Turner Contemporary were really rather busy.
Carl Andre: Mass & Matter Turner Contemporary, Margate
(1 February - 6 May 2013)
You may not know his name, but you'll know one of his works. That pile of bricks the Tate exhibited in the 70s, that was one of Andre's. Its official name was Equivalent VIII, Carl's eighth attempt at showing how 120 firebricks could be arranged as a cuboid. This controversial piece isn't here in Margate, more's the pity, but a small selection of his other work fills an upper gallery. Don't expect curves, Carl prefers straight lines, repetition and flatness. One of his tiled metal pavements (with the alluring title 4×25 Altstadt Rectangle) can be walked across, but the other two are stashed in the corner and watched over by beady staff. A few artworks break out from the horizontal, for example a pile of large cedar blocks stacked carefully like the start of a game of Jenga. The closest approximation to "those bricks" is a set of triangular tiles laid out to form a prism, sharp point upwards, named 60 x 1 Range Work. You could knock this together yourself in your garage after a quick trip to Wickes, if the fancy took you, the difference being that Andre got there first and called it art. Meanwhile around the walls are several examples of Carl's poetry, if you can call words typed in patterns on typewriters poetry. These were produced in the late 1960s, when manual keybashing was the extent of home-based word-processing, so some of the rows and columns contain mistypes and overtypes it was impossible to delete. Clever, in places, but elsewhere little more than I might have created myself as a child. If you think you might walk out mumbling "well that wasn't proper, was it?", perhaps best not come specially.
On the seafront, between the Jubilee Clock and the station, once stood the entrance to Dreamland [photo]. When this was Margate's entertainment hub, these coastal acres were packed with rides including the Water Chute, the Cableway, the Haunted Swing and the Meteorite. At its heart was the Scenic Railway, a glorious wooden rollercoaster built in 1920, and until five years ago the oldest surviving working coaster in Britain. Alas a suspicious fire damaged it severely, and what remains now stands alone in the centre of nothing much [photo]. For those of us who remember the glory days and rode the undulating beast, it's a very sorry sight. Thankfully, even surprisingly, there are grand plans to bring Dreamland back. The project's being backed by local cash, national funding and lottery money, and there are hopes that Stage 1 will reopen as early as next year [photo]. That means the refurbishment of the park entrance via the Dreamland Cinema building, the restoration of the Scenic Railway (hurrah) and the installation of a number of other rides, as well as a touch of landscaping to brighten the whole place up. 2014 seems an impossible deadline while peering across a temporary car park at an expanse of featureless tarmac, but what a gamechanger for the local tourist economy if everything takes off. As the rise of the Turner Contemporary shows, dreams can come true.
Subject to Constant Change Turner Contemporary, Margate
(1 February - 6 May 2013)
You're probably not familiar with this Italian-German visual artist either. Rosa likes to toy with the nature of cinema, more particularly "the physical characteristics of film and the structure of cinematic narrative." She's refitted a series of film projectors to spool celluloid in twisting shapes, perhaps nudging large ball bearings on a can, perhaps projecting individually typed letters onto a glass screen. Entire paragraphs of text have been punched out of long strips of felt, projecting their meaning in light on the wall beyond. Two dozen horizontal strips of handwritten celluloid rotate slowly in the gallery nextdoor, although once I'd spotted the misspelling of "dissappear" halfway down I couldn't concentrate on much else. The centrepiece of Rosa's display is a ten minute film of coastal and industrial decay, entitled Subconscious Society. This features aerial shots of snaking saltmarsh and footage shot in and around the Maunsell Forts off the North Kent coast, so I was transfixed. Only afterwards however, when I read the exhibition blurb, did I realise I'd actually been watching "the end of the industrial age in favour of an age of technology". Meanwhile, along the upper corridor, Rosa has curated an entirely different exhibition comprising several of JMW Turner's perspective drawings. These were used as part of a series of lectures at the Royal Academy in the 1830s where Turner was a Professor of Perspective - a job to treasure. Joseph's painted spheres and coloured triangles were only visual aids, but could easily be modern art, and make a surprisingly cohesive presentation.