Gavin Turk, Damien Hirst collaborate for ‘Turkish Tulips’ exhibition at The Bowes Museum


The iconic tulip gets an artistic makeover by British conceptual artist Gavin Turk and friends in a new international touring exhibition commissioned by the Van Loon Museum in Amsterdam.

The Bowes Museum in the north of England is the current stop for Turkish Tulips, which features works by Turk alongside an impressive array of contemporary artists including Damien Hirst, Cornelia Parker, Sir Peter Blake, Fiona Banner and Michael Craig-Martin.

The tulip is symbolic to both the Netherlands and Turkey, where the flower originates from. Turkish Tulips moves beyond the clichés to delve into the complex and paradoxical story of this stunning bloom, the artists mining the tulip’s rich vein of secrets to create new perspectives.

“The exhibition provokes curiosity – challenging us to see things in a new light – the familiar becomes unfamiliar as the tulip’s important role in history is presented through tales of romance, beauty, obsession, inequality and extravagance as well as scientific discoveries through the enlightenment,” explained Dr Howard Coutts, the Museum’s Keeper of Ceramics, and curator of the exhibition.

Currently celebrating its 125th anniversary, the Bowes Museum in Teesdale, County Durham, is a hidden treasure. Set in the historic market town of Barnard Castle, this magnificent purpose-built three-floor building houses fine and decorative artefacts from across Europe. Many of the collections were sourced by the museum’s founders and original benefactors Joséphine and John Bowes, who sadly didn’t live to see the fruits of their labour.

“As a Turk by name, the Turkish origins of these iconic flowers make them all the more playful and relevant”

Gavin Turk articulated his reason for choosing the museum, “I love the fact that Joséphine and John Bowes travelled Europe gathering cultural artefacts, as the traders did with tulip bulbs hundreds of years before. As a Turk by name, the Turkish origins of these iconic flowers make them all the more playful and relevant”.

Turk has added over 30 contemporary pieces to the countless other tulip motifs that are interwoven amongst the Bowes’ permanent collection of 15,000 artefacts. Finding them is like going on a treasure hunt. To help, Turk and his wife Deborah Curtis (who’s behind a related children’s exhibition, The Clockwork Garden, also on show at The Bowes Museum) have constructed a handy illustrative map pinpointing where to find all the tulips currently on display in the museum.

Turkish Tulips runs at the Bowes Museum until November 5, 2017. The exhibition’s grand tour then travels to Istanbul and in 2018 it will be at the Horniman Museum, London SE23.

Two Tulips With Blue Square, 2013, by Georgie Hopton ft in ‘Turkish Tulips’ exhibition


Exhibition details

Title: Turkish Tulips

Dates: 29 July 2017 – 5 November 2017

Gallery opening times: daily 10.00 am – 5.00 pm

Venue address: The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Co Durham DL12 8NP

Admission: £5 (under 18), £6 (students), £14 (adults), with concession tickets for the over 60s, groups, and families.

Info and tickets: visit or call 01833 690606 to book tickets


Main photo: Tulips (after Mapplethorpe), by Michael Craig-Martin, 2016,  ft in ‘Turkish Tulips’ exhibition