B. Wurtz: The Art Of Recycling Pushes Duchampian Boundaries At The Baltic

The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead is currently presenting the first gallery survey of American artist B. Wurtz. Declared “a master of the unassuming” by Roberta Smith, art critic for The New York Times, B. Wurtz has been making sculpture from everyday materials for more than 40 years. Wurtz is best known for his three-dimensional works, carefully assembled sculptures and installations made from a wide range of simply arranged commonplace, discarded materials. Wurtz is a prideful appreciator of lowly objects. His practice is highly concerned with the ethics of re-use and recycling using universal materials such as: food wrappers, plastic carrier bags, shoelaces, locks, mop handles, takeaway trays, mesh bags and wooden blocks.

Food, shelter, clothing are the basis for the materials Wurtz chooses to use, they tend to refer directly, or not, to one these three basic human necessities. In 1971, he made a drawing entitled Three Most Important Things inscribed with the words ‘food’, ‘shelter’ and ‘clothing’ . Ever since, this work has become a manifesto or foundational statement leading his practice on a path of aesthetic investigation into the mundane by-products of our daily lives, most of them related to extreme consumption habits of our time.

In the exhibition at BALTIC, Wurtz will present some 60 works spanning his entire career, from the early 1970s to present day. The wide range of sculptures, which will be presented on Level 3, highlight Wurtz’ consistency in output and confirm his conceptual impulse to literally reinvent the medium from the ground up. By highlighting the overlooked, never allowing the visitor to lose sight of what the pieces are made from and how they are put together, Wurtz’ works succeed in channelling the many possibilities of these everyday materials. The objects found within Wurtz’ works provide and retain the evidence of their former and formal quality as well as function. For the artist sculpture is a long-developing process and Wurtz spends an extensive time gathering materials, tentatively and fastidiously putting one thing on top of another, arranging and rearranging, however, sometimes it is a minor tweak that clinches the ‘perfect’ assemblage.

Despite their humbleness and honesty, there is a certain enigma to B. Wurtz and his works, which are most often untitled. Even the name of the artist himself seems to be part of his portfolio. Using only his initial, B. for Bill which is in turn short for William, can refer us back to the most famous artistic pseudonym Duchamp’s R. Mutt. Wurtz’ single initial forename (B.) seems a nod to the ready-made godfather and also succeeds in remaining gender neutral, thus allowing deliberate anonymity.

B. Wurtz (1948, Pasadena, California) moved to New York in the mid 1980s, where he currently live and works, after studying in the California Institute of the Arts and the University of California, Berkeley. His work has been individually exhibited both in America and Europe, and he has taken part in group exhibitions in various international institutions. His work has been in exhibitions at MoMA PS1, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, Lyon; RISD Museum of Art, Rhode Island; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Wahsington D.C. and Castillo/Corrales, Paris. 

Exhibition Runs: 20 November 2015 – 28 February 2016 BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead 

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