Gavin Turk at South London Gallery (1998)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 15 September 2009
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 4(4), page 53 in 1998.

Gavin Turk at South London Gallery

Gavin Turk approaches issues of originality, value, and celebrity. He also addresses art history and artistic cannibalism across a variety of well-executed media. With 18 works— including seven sculptures and installations— his Stuff Show addressed these themes, and cannibalized his own work in the process.

Gavin Turk, best-known for his life-size sculpture Pop (1993) exhibited last year in Sensation at London’s Royal Academy (now on view at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof). In this work, he combines the likeness of Sid Vicious, and the same pose of Andy Warhol’s Elvis as a gun-toting cowboy, while imposing his self-portrait.

In the Stuff Show at the South London Gallery, Gavin Turk pokes fun at art icons such as Jacques Louis David, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, and Marcel Duchamp. In his 1998 version of Death of Marat (1793) we see a mirror reflection of the painting transformed into a sculpture. Turk appropriates Marat’s pose and props, imposing his own likeness. Is he here alluding to his own potential art martyrdom or the questionable acts resulting from his increasing art power? Or, is he, in fact, simply celebrating that he can take whatever he wants from David?

For Johns, the bronze forms of ordinary objects became Gavin Turk’s Bronze Roller (1998). Oldenburg’s monumental objects become gum blobs, in PK1 and PK2 (1998), that are elevated near the ceiling with a Turk twist, While the direct references to art history are nothing new, like the historically referenced photographs of Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura, Turk’s work doesn’t appear to raise friction between gender or culture. Instead he celebrates “borrowing” as an act in itself—all packaged, signed, and presented by Turk, the self-proclaimed “famous artist.”

Gavin Turk also plays with Duchamp and designer jeans as exemplified with One thousand, two hundred and thirty four eggs (1998) and Constellation (1998). With these two works he uses eggshells and polyester balls as material to illustrate his large-scale signature, at the same time questioning and celebrating his name value.

He also engages in creating clichés of his own work. His controversial waxwork, Bum (1998), refers to his appearance dressed as a vagrant at the Sensation opening. The work offers everything: fine craftsmanship, historical reference (himself and Duane Hansen), controversy, and it was created by Gavin Turk.

Most important, Gavin Turk questions the pursuit of “the new,” “the original,” and throws designer labeling in our faces. Are these respectable options besides the pursuits of “individuality"? Gavin Turk may possibly lead a way of this box.