He has impersonated tramps, punks, Pollock and Che. But who is the real Gavin Turk? As a major retrospective opens, we challenged psychoanalyst Darian Leader to find the man behind his many masks
Who is Gavin Turk? The title of his major new retrospective consists of a string of questions – Who What When Where How and Why – but it is no accident that the “Who” comes first. Turk's explorations of artistic identity and authenticity have been as witty as they have been profound, from his early invention of an artist called “Gavin Turk” to his casting of himself as Jackson Pollock to create drip paintings with his own signature.
“Do you have to be an artist to make art?” he asks. “Or are you constituted as an artist by the work?” Turk had seen Robert Morris's mirror cubes as a child, and would later consider them not simply as reflecting surfaces but as symbols of the artistic establishment itself: if you had these, he thought, you could set up a museum anywhere in the world. They incarnated an authority that sanctioned “art” as “art”. Turk's later fashioning of corroded mirror cubes both contested this and conceded to it, and Morris's works have remained an important touchstone.