‘Who What When Where How and Why’ spannned twenty-six years of the artist’s career and featured over seventy works. The exhibition – which included new and previously unexhibited work – was on display throughout Newport Street’s six gallery spaces.
Since emerging onto the London art scene in the early 90s, Turk has dedicated much of his career to exploring notions of authorship, identity and value. Engaging in the central modernist debate initiated by Marcel Duchamp, Turk’s varied work appropriates both familiar everyday objects and instantly recognisable artworks by towering figures of twentieth-century art such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Giorgio de Chirico.
This survey – the first major UK exhibition of the artist’s work to be presented since 2002 – featured the iconic Cave, a commemorative blue plaque installation Turk exhibited in his 1991 Royal College of Art degree show. A series of ‘Signature’ works, in which Turk uses his own name as a form of ready-made in order to examine ideas surrounding origin and authenticity, was also included. The signature of the artist, traditionally the valued hallmark of authority and provenance, recurs throughout ‘Who What When Where How and Why’, emerging from the canvases of Turk’s Pollock paintings; the abstract expressionist artist’s paint splatters exchanged for innumerable ‘Gavin Turk’ signatures.
Turk’s deployment of his own image is similarly central to his oeuvre. Identity Crisis (1994), first shown in the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Young British Artist’ exhibition in 1995, imagines a Hello! magazine cover featuring the artist with his family. Pop (1993), meanwhile,sees a life-sized waxwork of Turk inhabiting the pose of Warhol’s Elvis in the guise of English punk musician Sid Vicious. This complex study of celebrity icons and the commodification of culture was included in the Royal Academy’s seminal ‘Sensation’ show in 1997.
Layers of art historical allusion and ‘recycled’ references inform Turk’s work elsewhere, as in his interpretations of Warhol’s ‘Elvis’ and ‘Disaster’print series, and with pipe (1991), a liquorice version of the traditionally-male smoking instrument – cast in bronze – that plays on Magritte’s famous The Treachery of Images (1929), whilst simultaneously referencing van Gogh. Influenced by artists such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Turk’s skillful manipulation of materials was evident throughout the show, for example in his exquisitely-cast bronze rubbish bags, and with the major sculptural work Ariadne (2006–2014). This large-scale bronze playfully casts the classical female figure, reimagined in Giorgio de Chirico’s surreal paintings, as if she is made of crudely carved polystyrene, further debunking the fetishized art historical form.