Gregor Turk has converted an empty space at Ponce City Market into a smashingly cool, black-and-white boutique by turning discards into seductively new objects of desire. “Anything black is rubber,” the artist explained, “and anything white is ceramic.” Though the color range is binary, the results are anything but. With drawing and sculptural objects artfully staged in the space as if in a retail setting, Turk has purposefully blurred the line between art and commerce, making the space itself part of the show. Even its name — Torque by Turk — is part of the designer-y inspiration.
Well known for his public work along Atlanta’s BeltLine and for his 2012 Working Artist Project award at the Museum of Contemporary Art — Georgia, in addition to his 25 years of exhibition in private and public venues, Turk has the confidence to execute a playful idea with consummate skill and dead serious intent. He has repurposed over 50 objects, all the lowliest of discards that he found in the trash, at flea markets, at Goodwill or at yard or thrift sales, and elevated them to what he describes as “boutique status.” Globes, cigar boxes, discarded household or decorative items such as salad bowls, chairs, planters, yard-sized plastic Easter eggs and even an old mirror ball missing most of its mirrors, don sleek and sexy black rubber to become something utterly new.
By removing the former function or purpose of an object, he explains in wall text in the space, “the resulting sculpture, furniture and other bound objects take on new meanings as emphasis shifts from their function toward form and surface.” Covering repurposed objects with another repurposed material — in this case, rubber from hundreds upon hundreds of bicycle inner tubes — elevates “the lowest of lows,” as he describes them, to something worth investing in. Just what that means raises interesting questions about desire, consumerism and the lure of the object, and again, the line between art and commerce (if there ever were one…). His objects, as seen through the glass walls that bear his “logo,” have not only lured passersby and Sunday shoppers into a new experience, but have enticed crowds of patrons who have bought the work, adding to the discussion ideas about the changing relevance of gallery as representative of an artist’s work.
But put those questions aside for a moment and just enjoy the sumptuousness of Turk’s materials. Turk began working with rubber for his 2012 Terminal Velocity installation for his Working Artist Project award at MOCA GA developing ideas around his interests in mapping, contour lines, topography and how we move through the world. His Fetish Series from that show, objects influenced by animist designs he encountered in his 20s as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, are direct antecedents to the objects in this exhibition. Boxes, eggs and especially the 16 globes arranged on white tables which form an X in the center of the room, at least visually, possess some of that same spirit. But unlike the African fetishes which are often impaled with nails, Turk’s objects are spiked with valve stems referencing the very material with which he has turned object into art. His ceramics, especially the large bowls and lamp bases, are gorgeously tactile. Form and function.
Much of the work was made this year, and most within the last two years, though some of the work may be familiar to Atlanta crowds. He has repurposed a few pieces from previous shows like his 2012 show at MOCA GA which featured a few of the larger pieces in this show — the obelisk-shaped Courier and Conveyor, and Metronesian, his wood and rubber replica of Atlanta’s interstates with valve stems representing all exits, for example. A few objects such as the menacing rubber-covered Welding Masks and decorative horse were seen at Exquisite Corpse at the Contemporary in 2014. Others have made cameos at other local galleries. Their representation in Torque by Turk does nothing to dull their impact, or that of the show, as a body of work. After all, the repurposing of objects is one of the artists’ stated objections.
Brand new — all made in 2016, and some of the most successful pieces in the show — are what he calls his little black boxes or LBBs, after the moniker given to the perfect little cocktail dress. These enticing rubber-covered mundanities are made from such banal materials as plastic salad bowls or cigar boxes. Turk deservedly calls them “sexy.” They demand to be touched, yet hold themselves apart and unattainable, in the way of the most desirable of consumer goods. Set upon their pristine white shelves, one becomes a woven “Chanel” purse, another an old-fashioned camera case or a battery, yet whatever they may resemble, each remains, above all, a sculpture entirely itself.
An even larger rubber-wrapped object represented here in a gorgeous photograph, for sale in an edition of 20, can be found a mile north of Ponce City Market as part of Art on the BeltLine. The ongoing installation, from 2015, features a doomed 35-foot tall Paulownia tree — this invasive species occupies a currently unpaved portion of the BeltLine that is to be expanded — that Turk completely wrapped in inner tubes. Created in partnership with Trees Atlanta and Atlanta Botanical Garden, who aim to heighten awareness of invasive species, Retraction, according to Turk, “serves to reduce this tree to a silhouette, foreshadowing its future removal. Its binding can be read as an incongruous attempt to contain the tree’s spread.”
Torque by Turk, with its tongue-in-cheek allusions to designer name and designer status and even to the circuitous ruching process with which he covered some of his objects, may refer more slyly to the definition of torque as the twisting force applied to an object to cause rotation. Gregor Turk has delivered what art, design and even advertisement must do if it is to be noticed. He has repurposed, recycled and even twisted — literally — the old into something new. That it is beautiful and accessible and reproducible, ideas that could be used to debauch it as art, only play into his desire to examine how we access and engage with art in the 21st century age of consumerism.