Eyestorm, London, United Kingdom

Faces: Portfolio by Gavin Turk

Gavin Turk Biography

Guildford, UK, 1967

The chameleonic Gavin Turk made his public debut with a statement of finality. His MA show at London's Royal College of Art consisted of one work, Cave, an English Heritage-style blue plaque commemorating his occupancy. The plaque read 'Borough of Kensington, Gavin Turk, Sculptor, Worked Here 1989-1991' and was set into the wall above an otherwise empty interior. He was denied his degree certificate (his tutors couldn't understand the work), but had successfully launched a critique of authorship, 'genius', and the history of the European avant-garde that he is still pursuing almost a decade later.

In the early 90s Turk made a series of paintings based on both his own signature and those of other artists. With Stain he recalled Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti's habit of signing tablecloths as a form of payment for restaurant meals, while Piero Manzoni featured both Turk's name and that of the Italian conceptualist in a deliberately confounding double bluff. In 1993 he staged 'Collected Works 1989-1993', an exhibition that included the ironic- iconic Pop: a life-size waxwork sculpture of the artist as Sid Vicious aping the pose of Andy Warhol's painting of Elvis playing a cowboy. This extraordinarily deep layering of references is typical of Turk's approach to the problematic issue of artistic originality and status. By adopting something of the glamour attached to celebrities, he calls both his and our own position as participants in 'culture' into question.

At the Hayward Gallery's exhibition 'Material Culture' in 1998, Turk exhibited a builder's skip painted glossy black and titled Pimp. What initially appeared to be a found object, or Marcel Duchamp-like readymade, was in fact built to order, and hence a pastiche of minimalist sculpture and perfect symbol of the artist-as-recycler.

Also in 1998 Turk held a mini-retrospective at the South London Gallery, which he titled 'The Stuff Show'. At the private view he played on the considerable speculation about its content by wrapping everything up in unbleached canvas and string. Even in this prankish and subversive act, Turk referred to an artistic precedent - the 'wrapped' works of American sculptor Christo.

When eventually unveiled, the works in the show were seen to include Bum, a life-size waxwork model of the artist as a homeless person. Turk had turned up dressed in a similar way to the glamorous opening party of 'Sensation' at the Royal Academy of Arts the year before. Just as he draws visual parallels between himself and celebrities from the artworld and beyond, Turk is also interested in exploring our perception of, and relationship with, less privileged members of society. With Bum he achieves this by putting himself, or at least a representation of himself, in their shoes. This discomfiting piece played on the audience's squeamishness; while they flocked to the aura of glamour that emanated from Turk's Elvis, here was someone that most Londoners would normally go out of their way to avoid - yet these feelings of discomfort had to be confronted if they wanted to have a good look at the artwork.

Turk displayed another waxwork of himself in 2000, this time in the guise of revolutionary leader Che Guevara. His contribution to 'Ant Noises' at the Saatchi Gallery was based on a famous poster image of Guevara, enlarged to billboard size. In early 2001 Turk engaged in a more ambitious tribute: an extended performance in which he 'became' the rebel for a period of days. In this case, as in much of his work, the artists' own identity grows paradoxically stronger as it is apparently surrendered to others. The climax of the game recedes endlessly into the future just as its origin is lost in the past.


'The Che Guevara Story', Residence in the East End of London, 2001

'More Stuff', Centre d'Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland, 2000

'The Stuff Show', South London Gallery, London, 1998

'Collected Works 1989-1993', Jay Jopling, Denmark Street, London, 1993

'Signature', Bipasha Ghosh/Jay Jopling, London, 1992


'Century City', Tate Modern, London, 2001

'Out There', White Cube 2, London, 2000

'Ant Noises', Saatchi Gallery, London, 2000

'Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection', Royal Academy of Arts,

London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA, 1997

'Young British Arts III', Saatchi Collection, London, 1995

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