San Francisco

Lucy Puls

Wirtz Art

Secondary markets shift constantly, and not just in the art world. The advent of eBay has altered the way we value objects that gather dust. Even Dick Cheney has seen fit to point out that a sizable number of Americans now avoid unemployment lines by selling their stuff on the Internet. Since the late 1980s, Lucy Puls has instead transformed household junk into sculpture, casting old toasters, books, LPs, CDs, and stuffed toys inside blocks of translucent resin and turning them into solid forms that exude a strangely alluring sense of loss.

Puls’s new work represents a visual, if not thematic, departure that mirrors evolving attitudes about the redistribution of functional and decorative objects. Her recent exhibition at Stephen Wirtz Gallery featured six sculptures, each composed of a flaglike piece of sheer fabric digitally printed with a photograph of a discarded object or objects. These include used mattresses, computer monitors, and battered appliances left on sidewalks or front yards in the hope that passersby will take pity on and adopt them. A number of the photographs also picture the handwritten ‘‘Free’’ signs made by the objects’ former owners. Here, Puls matched these forlorn images with actual objects (a dented green cabinet, a Slimline rotary phone, a pair of oversize stereo speakers) that came from a secondhand source and tchotchkes purchased from the kind of ninety-nine-cent store that Andreas Gursky made iconic in his 1999 photograph. The arrangement of these materials has an appealing casualness that evokes scatter art and alludes to the way that sculpture, like any other consumer good, weathers periods of neglect as well as desirability.

Ultimately, what all the works in the show evoke is a tension within the idea of the unwanted. The dull beige computer monitor pictured in Ad Hoc Locum (Complete System), 2005, is technologically outmoded, while the pile of soil in Ad Hoc Locum (Ficus), 2004, as the residue of landscaping, indicates that there’s a corresponding hole somewhere. The discarded objects seem to be emblems of laziness—there’s a responsibility attached to large items past their prime: Arrangements must be made for their disposal. Puls adorns these images and large objects with cheap, closeout multiples—stylized plastic dragonflies, ceramic bunny rabbits, fake foliage. These items, while sparklingly new, are only minimally desirable. Rabbits, of course, conjure fecundity, a theme that emerges with particular effectiveness in Ad Hoc Locum (Grapes), 2004, a loosely hung photo printed on fabric that depicts four mattresses leaning against a tree trunk. Clusters of plastic grapes are pinned to the image, weighing it down, while single grapes litter the floor below. It’s a hygienic mess that gets us thinking about abundance and rot.

The aforementioned image of a computer monitor in Complete System, is arranged with a still-glossy black plastic stereo stacked on an box, which broadcasts a recording of fingers typing what turns out to be an unabridged definition of the word “time.” This work, like the others, is all about duration and durability. As a whole, Puls’s recent sculptures feel transitional, as though the artist is testing aesthetic boundaries and attempting to strike an effective balance between the prosaic and the pretty. Yet her interests are particularly pertinent at a time when large-scale obsolescence is visible and abundant and a plethora of “new and improved” options and innovations are launched every day. Although it concerns the expired, Puls’s sculpture seems remarkably fresh.

Glen Helfand