New York

B. Wurtz

Feature Inc.

In the early ’80s, B. Wurtz’s sculpture was something like the artistic equivalent of putting two and two together and managing to come up with seven. He could take, say, one of those flimsy Styrofoam containers that cradles frozen pork chops, attach a piece of string to its center, anchor the string with a cork, and create a seductive UFO-like object with a peculiarly accentuated lack of meaning. His work showed ties to European artists such as Markus Raetz and Georg Herold, but with an original debunking wit located somewhere between the dryness of Andy Warhol and the broadness of the Three Stooges. Wurtz’s sophistication was obvious if entirely elusive, and even though the simple makeup of the sculptures allowed viewers to make a pretty good stab at the contents of his formal recipe, no amount of concrete information could demystify the things themselves. Even at their silliest, they appeared to float in a state of physical grace.

In this recent exhibition, Wurtz’s inventions are as magical and unpretentious as ever, and their compositions are even more raveled. Titled “Survival,” this installation evokes the home and its increasingly fragile status as a hideaway from the world. The materials and subjects are those you could find around the kitchen, yard, or garage—cans, scraps of cloth and wood, nails, bowls, etc. In one series of pieces, called “Garment” (all works 1988–89), he has painted the white silhouette of a T-shirt onto three different-sized pieces of loose canvas, each in a different primary color. Littered up, down, and around one corner of the gallery, they offer a kind of bemused homage, not just to one of the most personal and private of items, but to the T-shirt’s flimsiness and classical regularity. At the same time, in choosing such a casual subject, Wurtz is screwing around with the traditional loftiness of the art object with Pop-art-style blatancy. The pieces themselves are neither T-shirts nor paintings, but reflect a little of the identity of both. In “House,” another collectively-titled series of wallworks, nails have been hammered into squarish chunks of found wood in the configuration of a generic private home. Again there is a jokey bric-a-brac charm about the pieces, crossed with a rather beautiful, folksy memorialization (wood and nails are all you need to build an actual house). Unlike Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler, however, Wurtz is not prone to bouts of poetic moralizing about the virtues of a simple life. If anything, his mock-mementos are closer in tone to, though more humanitarian than, Jeff Koons’ bald-faced, inflated souvenirs.

Maybe the most compelling pieces in the show were four untitled freestanding constructions. Here Wurtz fastened together what appear to be table legs, doweling, and sections of wooden trim to make vaguely humanesque, but quite deformed sculptures that might be described as the hick relatives of Joel Shapiro’s abstracted figures. A few of the pieces are ornamented with aluminum cans, and one sports a pathetic little bib. All of them positively nag the imagination. Like the best young artists of the moment, Wurtz’s brilliance lies in his ability to torture new, wilder ghosts from the most average and everyday decorations.

Dennis Cooper