Damien Hirst has gathered prominent Gavin Turk pieces, which he has collected over the years, and put them on display for the latest Gavin Turk retrospective at Hirst’s own Newport Street Gallery. Featuring pieces from as early as Turk’s master’s degree show at the Royal College of Art, to works which were exhibited with fellow YBA’s in the 1990s; the show is an engaging insight into the artist’s twenty-five year career.
Questions of how much an artist’s signature can impact the viewer’s reading of a work are played upon by Turk, who takes this idea further and reduces himself to a signature alone in pieces such as ‘Unoriginal Signature’. This theme is explored further in Gallery Three, where a Pollock-like, paint-dripped canvas adorns each wall. On closer inspection, the paint drips are in fact revealed to be hundreds of Turk’s own signature. Turk appropriates the identity of Pollock and tricks the viewer into a false sense of reality, whereby their preconceived notions of Pollock’s signature style lure them into an incorrect first reading of the work. As a viewer we grow suspicious of Turk’s works, which we now know to question when working to uncover their meaning.
This suspicion continues on the second floor of the gallery, where everyday objects are removed from their usual surroundings, causing us to question their meaning in this strange gallery context. A dirty sleeping bag lies uninhabited in the middle of the white-walled room. On the streets we can consciously choose to ignore its presence, shunning any responsibility for the object and the issues of homelessness which surround it. Here, in this immaculate gallery, we are no longer able to do so.
The artist continues to challenge expectations in Gallery Six, where what first appear to be plastic rubbish bags dotted on the floor are revealed to be made of painted bronze. Turk takes an everyday object of waste and gives it value, yet this value relies on the audience engaging with the work to uncover its truth. What I loved so much about this thought-provoking retrospective is that the lines between audience and artist are blurred, with the audience being invited to work with Turk to challenge and explore questions of identity and human responsibility in the face of modernity.
Written by intern Rhiannon Johns
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