Monday, July 10, 2006

Artist of the Week (07/10/06)

I'm particularly fond of humor in artwork. I justify this fondness via the notion that all truths, to be whole truths, must include humor, as humor can be found in every situation, regardless of how horrific overall. It's simply part of the human condition. [see image here]

I note this in preface to discussing the work of New York artist, B. Wurtz. Represented in Chelsea by the lengendary gallery
Feature, Inc., B. (Bill) Wurtz has been compared (in The New York Times, no less) to Richard Tuttle for his highly intelligent use of mundane, often found, objects in his art, but what differentiates Bill's work (for me at least) is its sense of humor. But it would be a gross simplifcation for me to suggest that humor is the essence of his project. In a Q&A published on Feature's website, Bill notes:

It saddens me that there is so much waste in our culture. I guess I'm very aware of everything I use and try to "tread lightly" on the earth. (I wish I could take my egg carton to the store and have them refill it with eggs.) I think my philosophy of living extends to the way I make art, the found objects certainly are a way of recycling. Doug Heubler made a statement about not wanting to add any more objects to the world, and I can relate to that. While I do make objects - in a way it would be more accurate to say that I rearrange objects that already exist.
B. Wurtz, Untitled, 1989, mixed media, 12 x 20 1/2 x 5 1/2" (image from artcle by Bruce Hainely)

Asking any artist what their favorite work by Bill is a bit of a personality test. From found object assemblages, to unprimed canvas paintings, to his little known videos, Bill's work seems to strike a very personal chord with those who love it, opening up possibilities that were seemingly always right there but unnoticed.

If there is an essence to Bill's project, it seems to be "look at reality." In a thorough Artforum
article, Bruce Hainley highlights an early drawing by Bill that sets the foundations for his work:

B. Wurtz, Three Important Things, 1973, ink on paper, 29 1/2 x 23 3/4". image from artcle by Bruce Hainely)

It doesn't get much realer than that. But as Hainley suggests in the title of his article, Bill's continuous use of objects we associate with attachment (like buttons, shoe laces, hooks, wires, etc.), combined with visual metaphors for balance, echoes the mandate for compassionate living so eloquently explored in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End : Only connect.

Essential to connecting, of course, is to recognize one's place in the scheme of things. A series of pieces Bill made in the mid 80s helped nudge viewers to re-examine whether they had done that.
[This] sequence of photographic and sculptural works made between 1984 and 1988 in which black-and-white, [were] typically grandiose pictures of what look like serious architectural structures are juxtaposed with the homely little sculptures (a metal container, a stainless-steel bowl on a block base, a wooden castle) that are their actual subjects. The photographs in Untitled (four views), 1988, initially appear to be images of an ancient monument, but we soon realize that they really depict the small found piece of concrete block Wurtz has poised in front of the photographs on a little tabletop and tiered base. He sutures the grandiose flight of fantasy to the actual in order to eye anyone's place in it, where knowing thyself would seem to entail knowing the scale of things, what's what and the rhetoric of how it's represented, understanding when things are (as one Wurtz drawing puts it) NOT IMPORTANT IN THE BIG PICTURE.

B. Wurtz, Untitled (four views), 1988, mixed media, photos: 5' 1" x 13' 8", sculpture: 17 x 24 x 30" (image from artcle by Bruce Hainely)

More recently, Bill exhibited what were called "aesthetically confrontational and aggressive paintings" (see example below). Although he didn't reject that description, he did clarify in the Q&A on this gallery's website that he was guided in their making by his mantra "look at reality"):

I ... set provide a framework in which to present the buttons. The buttons come from my longstanding interest in ordinary objects from everyday life. The compositions are composed from circles (based on the shape of the buttons) and horizontal and vertical lines (based on the weave and rectangular shape of the canvas). The canvas is cloth, and the buttons are sewn to the cloth, as is their nature. I was thinking about fabric design: in particular, the crosspatch pattern by Ray Eames from the 1940s. However, I didn’t want to have just a repeating pattern. I applied the push-pull ideas about composition that were developed by Hans Hoffman and were very much part of what I was taught when I was at UC Berkeley. Perhaps it is this combination of things that resulted in something confrontational and aggressive. I don’t know.

B. Wurtz, Untitled, 2000; acrylic, buttons, thread on canvas; 48 x 48" (image from Feature Inc. website).

What's in store for Bill's fans next? Well, if you're in New York you can see for yourself. He has an exhibition opening at Feature this Thursday. ArtCal provides a preview.


Blogger kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/10/2006 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Excellent. Humor can be funny sometimes (get it?). I also love the fact that these pieces you show look like they might have been done by five entirely different artists. So many times it's suggested that an artist's body of work needs to show clear visual continuity to be taken seriously. Wurtz hurls a wrench into that tired old calliope and sends it crashing to the ground. Now I'm blinded by the light (get it?).

7/10/2006 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger lump said...

B. Wurtz is the best. It saddens me when people don't get his work. Good post Ed!

7/10/2006 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous caracalla said...

Should the piece Three Important Things be refered to as a drawing? Looks more like a letter, a list, or a poem to me. Perhaps "work on paper" is a more appropriate description.

7/10/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

funny is formal . . .formal is funny

7/10/2006 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous priit said...


Twelve years later, Bill seems to have made a more drawing-like version:

7/10/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Future Trash said...

I like Wurtz's work - but I think most of his art is more amusing than humorous. Not much funny there, IMO. It seems kind of a fine line, when introducing humor into art - between humorous (Friedman, maybe Pettibone, Alex Bag, and Maurizio Cattelan,) and a one-liner (Ryan McGinness, Kehinde Wiley).

7/10/2006 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

Good artist choice!

I had the chance to meet Wurtz and spend some time talking to him at an open studio event a couple of years ago. His studio was a hoot! Lots of weird stuff everywhere. My friend and I spent a long time talking to him and learning about his work and his process.

7/10/2006 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Future, don't forget the ever-popular sight gag. Some artists devote unbelievable expenditures of effort to them.

7/10/2006 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

edward - thanks, for the effort!

7/10/2006 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger brent hallard said...

Excellent!! There is a little humor in everything. I don't see formal I see beuaty--a spider's touch on the web of the flexible mind.

7/10/2006 11:19:00 PM  
Anonymous one tired sock said...

Yessirree. I love this man's brain. What a nice, spirit lifting post after a long day of teachin' and studioin'. Thank ya sir.

7/10/2006 11:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just saw his new show yesterday and I must say it is the best yet. I do love his work. I love the physical simplicity of his work, so subtle but very engaging. They are very humble and loveable.

7/14/2006 05:29:00 PM  

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