Gregor Turk: Interstate 50
(The Blank Billboard Series)
City Gallery at Chastain, Atlanta
May16 - July 3
Driving down Gregor Turk's mythic Interstate 50 (the number was skipped over by the
interstate highway system) is to enter the peaceful realm of the grid. The 15 photos
that were part of the "Interstate 50 (The Blank Billboard Series)" at City Gallery at
Chastain were taken over a three year period in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri,
Montana, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming. These large-scale Ciba prints of monumental
roadside billboards- all empty, no longer in use or never occupied, and left to the
elements. Their white rectangles idle silently on urban edges, in the desert, on the
plains, beside farms, next to small towns. Turk found them draped in kudzu, standing
often against blue sky, sometimes bleak in snow or glowing at twilight. The billboards
stand solitary; there are no people or cars to interrupt the scenes on which they
themselves intrude. He discretely numbered, rather than named, his photographs.
In Chastain's one room gallery, the effect is a sweeping vista of their surprising beauty.
What does disrupt the view is the artist's own advertisement- his statement, which
occupies an entire wall of the gallery. These images were meant to be surrounded by the
space of the emptiness which they contain, and photographs as compelling as these can
speak for themselves. The strength of the work's figurative abstractions lies in the
multiplicity of its possible interpretations.
The billboard series is by far the strongest work yet made by the Atlanta-based Turk,
whose previous "49th Parallel Project" was a creative documentary of the imaginary line
that separates Western Canada from the Western United States. That exploration of
mapping concepts in no way equals the aesthetic and conceptual depth of this exhibit.
Turk explicitly states that the billboards are "anti-maps...text-less legends offering
little for the viewer in terms of grounding." But their metaphysical effect, when seen
in an urban and motion-filled context, is quite the opposite. The quite gallery and
their flat, substantial surfaces offer unexpected space for contemplation and for for
emotional release that renders moot any thought of maps.
With "Interstate 50" Turk intends to explore "commercial impositions" on the environment
and to document his travels in "undesirable territories - at least from an advertisers
perspective." Instead, his found objects stand as monuments to the grid that awaits an
artist's hand. On the edge of the last century, Russian painter Kasimir Malevich brought
painting to the supremely elemental state of a white square. His focus was to represent
straight lines that could never be found in nature. Here, Turk has collected images of
negative space that are not an abstract from nature, but an an abstract in
nature. Each may be viewed as a suprematist white composition, all variously framed by
the landscapes that surround them.
There are other valid readings of Turk's subject. The blank billboard might be
considered constructivist in its concern with nothing but space and time, and in its use
of industrial materials. The empty or emptied sign is an object built of simple planes
that invent a balanced sculptural geometry.
As a minimalist structure, the tabula rasa is that is a blank billboard might be described by genre artist Robert Morris as a unitary object purified of everything extraneous to its own unique physical condition- a literal, monolithic, three-dimensional gravity bound presence. Rather than creating a void with his representations, Turk has shaped a reflective situ inside "Interstate 50" where nature meets culture stripped bare.
E-mail to Gregor Turk