Elizabeth Turk ’83 Wins MacArthur “Genius” Award

Elizabeth Turk

Sculptor Elizabeth Turk ’83 is one of 22 Americans to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for 2010. The fellowship, often called the “Genius Award,” is given by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to exceptionally creative individuals as “an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.” The award includes a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant to “offer unprecedented freedom and opportunity to reflect, create, and explore.”

People are nominated anonymously by a group of individuals who submit recommendations to a small selection committee, also anonymous. Winners receive a single phone call to inform them of their award.

Turk was elated upon hearing the news. “I felt this enormous sense of pressure taken off,” she said. “And then the next thought was, ‘You’ve gotta create something unbelievably great now!'”

Turk is perhaps best known for “The Collars,” a series of 16 exquisitely carved marble sculptures. Elizabethan ruffs, delicate patterns of lace, as well as natural and corporal imagery — from spider webs to the human skeletal system — were the inspiration for the collars, each sculpted from a 400-pound block of Sivec or Carrara marble. These scientific yet natural studies serve as representations of articles of clothing and hold symbolic meaning. The structure and organization of the pieces, in particular Collars #7 and #8, were Turk’s responses to the events of 9/11 and demonstrate “the fragility of life manifested in the hardness and stability of the marble.”

“My sister describes my work the best,” said Turk. “She said that [my] work is inspirational because it is making something possible out of the impossible.”

Turk has received several awards and residencies, including, in 2000, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and New York City Art Commission Award for Excellence in Design and, in 2001, the L’Oreal Art and Science Prize for her collaboration with Kirara Kawachi in Japan. In 2002, Turk served in the Kyojima Artist in Residency Program in Tokyo and in 2003, Turk worked as the artist in residence at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. In Charlotte, Turk drew from works in the Mint Museum of Art’s historic collections of lace and antique lace collars, contributing to the study for “The Collars.” She exhibited a selection of these in 2003 in “Matter and Matrix” at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps, and again in 2004-2005 at the Mint Museum in “Vantage Point III Elizabeth Turk — The Collars: Tracings of Thought.” The series was displayed in its entirety at the 2006 Hirschl & Adler Modern exhibit titled “The Collars.”

After receiving her BA in international relations from Scripps College in 1983, Turk pursued a master’s in fine arts from Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore. A Pasadena, California, native, she is currently working on a new series inspired by water.


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