Gavin Turk – Turkish Tulips

Exploring the iconic flower.

Craig Berry
5 min readMay 18, 2017

Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer

Gavin Turk – Turkish Tulips

Tulips are one of the most iconic symbols of the Netherlands amongst others, but it is this symbol that Gavin Turk has chosen to focus on for a new exhibiton at the Museum van Loon.

Gavin Turk is considered to be one of the Young British Artists, a group of artists in the 1990’s including the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marc Quinn who dominated the UK art scene producing bold, shocking and well-known works. Gavin Turk focuses his work around the idea of authenticity and identity, challenging the authorship of art.

For the Museum van Loon, he has curated an exhibition based around this iconic Dutch flower as a symbol of exploration, trade and migration. I took a trip there on a Sunday afternoon to check it out for myself.

In the 16th century the Netherlands had a great trade history with the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), it was the Van Loon family whom were heavily involved in this trade route and this is what inspired Gavin Turk.

The Museum van Loon house on the Keizergracht is like stepping back in time to the 1700’s, as soon as you walk through the door you’re met with the splendour and elegance of the house interior and all that exists within it. I’m always amazed when I walk into one of the canal houses at just how big they are on the inside. The Turkish Tulips exhibition takes place over both floors of the house and it’s nice how the pieces of work are integrated into the already existing space.

Gordon Cheung — Unnamed Tulip 20 (Tulipbook) in the Sheep Room
Rory McEwan — Old English Striped Tulip ‘ Sam Barlow’ in the Red Bedroom

Gavin Turk chose 24 contemporary artists to contribute to the exhibition with names like Damien Hirst, Sir Peter Blake and Michael Craig-Martin — each of their contributions focusing on the tulip. The exhibtion leaflet/publication is a comprehensive newspaper sized booklet: The Hoft Examiner, explaining each of the artist’s works and it also covers topics about ‘Tulips in the East’, ‘The Aesthetics of Tulips’ and ‘The Science and Natural History of Tulips’. It also includes a map of the wherabouts of the pieces dotted around the museum.

Turkish Tulips exhibition newspaper

Wandering from room to room it was like a treasure hunt, looking around for each of the tulips and interpretations of tulips each artist had made. Clear and obvious pieces like Rob & Nick Carter’s ‘Black Tulip’ sculpture — a black painted bronze 3D cast of Judith Leyster’s iconic water colour image to relate the frenzy of tulipmania to contemporary art consumerism

Rob & Nick Carter — Black Tulip

Also Georgie Hopton’s ‘Two Tulips with Blue Square’ where the explosive quality of the flowers is held by a pale blue square. A nod to constructivism and to inform you that the depitcion of beauty is not the only thing that concerns her.

Georgie Hopton — Two Tulips with Blue Square

More abstract interpretations are Benjamin Grant’s ‘Overviews’ where for this part of his series he has focused on an image of the tulip fields in Lisse which in March and April bloom milions of flowers. The image shows rows upon rows of colourful flower heads with mesmerising flatness havng being shot from the sky which we often don’t see ourselves.

Benjamin Grant — Overviews (52.276355°, 4.557080°)

Also Lilian Lijn’s typographic response ‘Tulip Mine’ is very different, where she has made a sort of game with cards where each player may automatically put together their words into a sentence. The idea is to challenge the preconceived ideas of what a poem might be.

Lilian Lijn — Tulip Mine

Some of the other artworks I enjoyed were Damien Hirst’s interpretation ‘Tulip Varieties’. Hirst was a leading pioneer for the YBA’s and themes of collecting often appear in his work. Here he has made this image similar to a seed packet or bulb sales sheet showing the variety of exotic and beautiful tulip varieties, highlighting the obsessive relationship between western and eastern civilisations and the humble tulip. It also incorporates his own iconic branding.

Damien Hirst — Tulip Varieties

American-born Nancy Fouts’ artworks often explore themes of time, nature and humour, injecting everyday objects with wit by manipulating them in such a way that we seem to recognise them for the first time. Here she has made a light-up match that attracts humans like moths to a flame.

And a piece of artwork that felt very ‘modern’ and up to date was one by Sarah Staton ‘iTulips’ where she brings the tulip into the digital era by using 6 pink tulip emoji’s on an iPhone presented on a screen sized, highly glossy print.

Along with these Gavin Turk had a bunch of pieces by himself, what amazed me were his bronze painted sculptures, painted in the colours and style of a cardboard box. One just a plain box and the other, the opener to the exhibition which was that of a red tulip box with the exhibition’s name on it.

Gavin Turk — Box

At the moment, relations between the Netherlands and Turkey are not very good due to one reason or another, but this is a well curated and displayed exhibition relating to the better times between these nations. As well as the Turkish Tulips exhibition the rest of the museum is also an exhibition as well as the beautiful garden, walking out here it felt like I was in a Parisian manor garden — amazing what is hidden behind the front of the canal houses which most only ever see.

Museum van Loon Garden

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Craig Berry

Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.