Bronzed Garbage Bag Sculpture by Gavin Turk

March, 2015: I was walking through the 2015 Armory Show, and as I entered the booth of Ben Brown Fine Arts, I noticed this garbage bag on the floor, and wondered why someone had left it there. That was honestly my first reaction - look at it, it's a bag of garbage, right? Wrong, it's a sculpture titled "American Bag" by the British artist Gavin Turk. And if you tried to pick it up to "take out the trash," you'd have a pretty hard time, because it's made of bronze and weighs over 300 pounds. And you'd be making a mistake by throwing it away, because the price for this art work is $140,000. Scroll down to read more...

Bronzed garbage bag sculpture by Gavin Turk seen at the 2015 Armory Show

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I'm sure the first reaction most people will have - myself included - is "what a joke." I'm not sure what's funnier, the idea that an artist is presenting a bronzed garbage bag as "art," or the idea that some collector out there will pay $140,000 for this garbage bag (at the time of the Armory Show, it was "on reserve," so chances are pretty good it will be sold).

But let's step back and try to assess this in another way. Let's recall Marcel Duchamp bought a urinal from a plumbing supply store, titled it "Fountain," and submitted it to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in 1917. What about Picasso taking a bicycle seat and handlebars and turning it into a "bull's head" sculpture? Is Gavin Turk's garbage bag all that outrageous when considered in the context of those other pieces, long since considered master works of modern art?

Art by Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, and Gavin Turk

And what does Gavin Turk say himself about his garbage bag sculptures?

"A bag full of discarded products, unrecycled organic matter thrown in with the by-products of our wasteful consumerist lifestyles. This rubbish is encapsulated in the formal roundness of this classic trompe l'oeil artwork. We are defined by what we throw away and conversely we are deconstructed by what we choose to display in our hallowed museum halls."

Here's some additional statements made by the artist in regards to garbage-themed sculptures:

"A piece of rubbish on the street contains within it cultural stories - stories of use, of its production, of its being thrown away - the stories that this bin bag can tell are stories about who we are and how we live ... I really like trompe l'oeil work, because it says immediately that this is both what you think it is and not what you think it is."

Gavin Turk (born in 1967) is a British born, international artist. His work addresses the "myth" of the artist and the "authorship" of a work, which is a modernist, avant-garde debate stretching back to the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp.

To learn more about Gavin Turk and his art, check out his website here.

a photograph portrait of the British artist Gavin Turk

Artist Gavin Turk

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