Interstate 50
Interstate 50
The Blank Billboard Series
A Photographic Series by Gregor Turk

A Review by Cathy Byrd from
Art Papers  November/December 1998

Gregor Turk: Interstate 50
(The Blank Billboard Series)

City Gallery at Chastain, Atlanta
May16 - July 3
Interstate 50:WY1, 1998, Cibachrome, 30" x 45"

     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.
© Art Papers, 1998
Photograph © Gregor Turk, 1998



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