Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Elizabeth Turk

Elizabeth Turk got a MacArthur prize! In 2006 we saw her exhibition at Hirschl and Adler gallery of collars made of elaborately, impossibly carved white marble. We were amazed at her virtuosity. I wrote briefly about her in the August 2006 issue of Kansas City's Review magazine.

As a person with a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance sculpture, I first connected her to the 16th-century Milanese virtuoso artist Augustino Busti, called Il Bambaia, whose extraordinarily high relief and detailed sculptures amazed me many years ago. Many of his works were vandalized by having their tiny heads pulled off.

Of course, for virtuoso marble carving, Gianlorenzo Bernini is the first name that comes to mind, but Turk's work is far more adventurous than even his. Her collars are like lace, vines, skeletons, or DNA models, all of which inspire her. Two of the collars referred to 9/11, with plan and flower forms entwined around skeletal ones. I thought the combination of fragility and strength in the same sculpture had some of the tough delicacy of Petah Coyne's wax chandeliers.

A couple of years ago, I visited Hirschl and Adler to see another exhibition of Turk's carvings. These were ribbons; while they did not have all the complex associations of the collars, they were still amazingly carved. Marble is a hard but  fragile stone and it is difficult to believe it can be carved the way Turk does without breaking. She is an artist who makes beautiful objects, pushing the limits of a most traditional medium far beyond what we thought possible.

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