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Garth Greenan Gallery is pleased to announce the gallery’s eighth online viewing room, B. Wurtz: Three Important Things. Opening December 15, 2023, the exhibition features 16 works spanning nearly fifty years of the artist’s career. In his characteristically spirited and pragmatic constructions, paintings, and works on paper, B. Wurtz resourcefully transforms found objects into vibrant, poetic abstractions that balance a simultaneous air of lightness and weight.

B. Wurtz’s gentle repurposing of everyday flotsam to create something humorous and beautiful undermines the notion of the grand artistic gesture and elevates the value of the commonplace. He writes, "they have an intense beauty not only in how they look, but in how they function in the world,” demonstrating his concern for both the formal and practical aspects of his work. The artist’s transformative amalgams of found materials often coalesce around simple subjects like “sleeping, eating, and keeping warm,” foundational human needs which are listed—numerically and in playfully cursive script—in his 1973 drawing, Three Important Things

On the occasion of this presentation, B. Wurtz participated in a conversation with Gilles Heno-Coe to further discuss some aspects of his life and work.

B. Wurtz: Three Important Things - December 15, 2023 – February 15, 2024 - Viewing Room - Garth Greenan Gallery Viewing Room

Three Important Things, 1973/2022

Lithograph

30 x 24 inches

GH
In the Fall 2022 Issue of The Paris Review, there is a reproduction of your 2022 lithograph Three Important Things, which is based directly off of your important early drawing of the same name from 1973. What is some of the background surrounding this work?

BW
Matthew Higgs is a consultant for the publication. He’s a friend and a big supporter of my work. I've also known Na Kim for a long time too; she's the art director there. So they extended the invitation to me to do the project. We ended up with I think three possibilities of works to be included. They chose the Three Important Things print and I thought it was a perfect choice.

The original drawing, that’s such a big, seminal work for me. I remember distinctly doing it was when I was living at my dad’s house. This was 1973, I had graduated from UC Berkeley, but I had not gone back to Cal Arts for graduate school until 1979. I was pretty into conceptual art then and so that was kind of the inspiration. I had used found objects in my sculptures and at one point I realized I should think of some way to limit them. Do I just stick stuff together? This gave me the freedom to do other things, and is why I settled on food, clothing, and shelter. 

Back when I showed with Hudson at Feature, he sold the original drawing to somebody in Texas. I remember debating in my own mind “is this actually a work I want to let go of?” Years later, after Hudson died, I was trying to figure out where that work was because we wanted to use it in two museum shows, and I could not find any records for it. I don’t know where that work is. That’s what led to me to this thing related to Marcel Duchamp.

Duchamp was certainly a big influence on me. Duchamp and Alexander Calder, as someone once said, might be the big, obvious antecedents for my work. I remembered I was thinking of the urinal, Fountain, which was lost. And the bicycle wheel—I think that was lost too. And we know he made the multiples, of course, much later. I thought if Duchamp could do that, I could also do it with this work. I felt that was an important work for me in the way you could say Fountain was such an important work for Duchamp. That’s what gave me the idea to do the print.

I decided it would be interesting to add a new signature red, to update the date to the current time. That’s another thing that always interested me in my work, the passage of time.

GH
We’ve discussed these universal needs for food, clothing, and shelter—the main themes of Three Important Things—but where is the room for art in the kind of world it represents? Can art only come about once we have taken care of our basic necessities?

BW
That’s an interesting question. Because those are the basics of life, so in a way, I mean, look at all the people that made art and were barely surviving. I’m not just talking about financially. I just think those are the primary things. I love art, and people who make art, but to live in the world we need those other things. It’s just the starting point, and maybe that’s what’s interesting in relation to the drawing, is that it’s the starting point of life. What happens beyond that is people think of other things to do, like to create this and that, and not just in the field of art. So there’s a very interesting broader picture of life starting with those basics.

GH
You’ve been called a collector. If you think about it, your work has also become a living archive of material culture over the course of decades. Many of the the objects included in your artworks can no longer be found commonly in circulation. What kinds of things do you most like to collect, or do you not have a particular preference?

BW
It’s interesting you’re mentioning that, because in my Brooklyn Rail talk with Jessica Holmes last year she also mentioned the concept of archiving, archiving items from our culture. What I think is interesting about that, what you’re calling the collecting– although it’s not like I collect– well, no, I take it back. I have these huge plastic bags filled with other plastic bags that I haven't used yet for sculpture. I realized at some point those could end up, way in the future, in a museum. I chose to collect the most ordinary, overlooked thing possible. That’s really where the plastic bag thing started.

That was a long time ago, before we were thinking about the whole issue of their environmental impact. That is now certainly part of my work. I think the subtext just happened, but that was not what the original thinking was. It was picking the most ordinary thing that was going to be thrown out. I think that’s the collecting, archiving impulse. What’s weird is that in the future it could be interesting that this stuff could survive in my art.

GH
I love the way your works deal with issues of flatness, illusionism, abstraction, and representation. Western Airlines Snack Tray, 1980, for instance, reminds me of Ellsworth Kelly’s 1968 work, Study for Curve I, which consists of a crushed green paper cup. Both your work and his show how a beautiful abstract form can result from the simplest transformation of an everyday object. Do you think much of issues of abstraction and representation when making your work, or does it all just come naturally, intuitively?

BW
I would say that I do think about things like abstraction. I was never into figure drawing, it just didn’t interest me. I remember we had to do that at UC Berkeley, with models in the class, and I wasn’t into trying to render them convincingly. I would do sort of abstracted versions of these hard edge lines or shapes or something. So I have had a big interest in abstraction and I think it is still there in my work.

I am really interested in what was called formalism. Yes, I have this big connection to conceptual art, absolutely, and I have my content: the food, clothing, and shelter. But then what becomes the interesting thing for me to do, to add to that, is all basically a formalist issue. Like how do I decide to paint something, or in what colors? Or in making a sculpture, figuring out how it pleases me aesthetically. I mean, that's the thing of aesthetics, especially related to the objects I use which are non-aesthetic in people’s minds.

Slide-Show

Slide-Show Thumbnails
HA HA, 1976

Ink on paper, plastic, and colored paper

2 x 4 1/2 x 4 inches 

$8,000

HA HA, 1976

Ink on paper, plastic, and colored paper

2 x 4 1/2 x 4 inches 

$8,000

Inquire
Untitled (Red Record), 1981

Wood, string and record

15 1/2 x 15 1/4 x 3 inches inches

$15,000

Untitled (Red Record), 1981

Wood, string and record

15 1/2 x 15 1/4 x 3 inches inches

$15,000

Inquire
Bunch #2, 1995

Mixed media

99 x 48 x 48 inches

$25,000

Bunch #2, 1995

Mixed media

99 x 48 x 48 inches

$25,000

Inquire
Untitled, 2016

Pigmented cotton and solvent transfer

69 x 49 inches

$6,000

Untitled, 2016

Pigmented cotton and solvent transfer

69 x 49 inches

$6,000

Inquire
Untitled, 2017

Gold tinsel, wire, metal and wood 

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2017

Gold tinsel, wire, metal and wood 

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Inquire
Untitled, 2019
Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string
18 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches
$10,000

Untitled, 2019
Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string
18 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches
$10,000

Inquire
HA HA, 1976

Ink on paper, plastic, and colored paper

2 x 4 1/2 x 4 inches 

$8,000

HA HA, 1976

Ink on paper, plastic, and colored paper

2 x 4 1/2 x 4 inches 

$8,000

Untitled (Red Record), 1981

Wood, string and record

15 1/2 x 15 1/4 x 3 inches inches

$15,000

Untitled (Red Record), 1981

Wood, string and record

15 1/2 x 15 1/4 x 3 inches inches

$15,000

Bunch #2, 1995

Mixed media

99 x 48 x 48 inches

$25,000

Bunch #2, 1995

Mixed media

99 x 48 x 48 inches

$25,000

Untitled, 2016

Pigmented cotton and solvent transfer

69 x 49 inches

$6,000

Untitled, 2016

Pigmented cotton and solvent transfer

69 x 49 inches

$6,000

Untitled, 2017

Gold tinsel, wire, metal and wood 

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2017

Gold tinsel, wire, metal and wood 

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2019
Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string
18 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches
$10,000

Untitled, 2019
Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string
18 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches
$10,000

GH
Like Three Important Things, HA HA from 1976 is also an important early work. Can you tell us a bit about it? Also perhaps asking the obvious question, what role does humor play in your work?

BW
I like when people tell me that they think my work is humorous. It’s not my main reason for making it, but I’m glad people see that and I think it’s there. The HA HA box, I made it out of a plastic box my dad had given me, I think a group of them. I don’t remember how he came across them. My dad was an engineer, he worked at Santa Barbara Research Center, that’s how I ended up growing up in Santa Barbara. He got a job there and was at the Stanford Research Institute before that.

I don’t remember what these boxes were for, something to do with his work, but this one had a crack in it. It made me think of The Large Glass breaking. So I had this box with the crack in it, but it was a nice box, so what I did is I made the drawing, the drawing underneath the lid that says “HA HA.” I did the drawing to mimic the crack, with all these little lines, making more lines related to the crack. Then I worked into it a text that had letters with only straight lines. So that’s how I ended up with “HA HA.”

Doesn’t this remind you in a way of The Large Glass, when Duchamp would talk about all these crazy reasons for why he had done this, what this related to, the bride and the bachelors, and this whole thing going on and on? I think it is a very curious object, I like that it has this “HA HA,” that is a joke in a way, but then there is this elaborate story about how it came about that most people would never know. It’s not a secret, but it’s not like the work could never be shown unless this was all spelled out on a wall for somebody to read, because I’m not interested in that stuff. I’m interested in people looking at art without being told ahead of time what it means. And later, if you want to find out interesting stuff, that’s fine. In a way this is a typical case of that, the way I think about art.

GH
What is the significance of text for you? Is it conceived primarily as an appropriated formal element or does it take on something more? It’s hard to ignore philosophical connotations given off in works like, Untitled (Know Thyself), 1992, for instance.


BW
Those works were kind of about philosophy. There was some temple that said that. I’m interested in philosophical things. I’m also interested in words too. I guess always, well, it took me like forty years after I stopped making music to write songs with lyrics, I never saw myself doing that, but I do really love words.

But I didn’t just put “know thyself” because I like the sound of the words, I like the whole philosophical background, where that comes from.

GH
You did a series where you hung vinyl music records from within wooden frames. I like how they play off the idea of the aural in more than one way, being of course a playable disc on the one hand, but looking like a gong on the other. I know you’re a musician—what role does music play in your life and work?

 

BW
The physical records, yeah. I loved finding them, we would go in these thrift stores. I was never a thrift store person until Ann got me into that. I always thought it was kind of horrifying to go to thrift stores, but then I’d find these beautiful colored vinyl records. Nowadays people do that all the time, there are all these colored records, but back then, they used to be more of a special thing. There’s no sound in those works, they aren’t meant to be played. They become physical objects.

I’ve always loved music, I mean, I started playing piano as a small child, classical piano, and when I studied later when I was a teenager, my teacher had everything planned out that I was going to go to college in creative studies in Santa Barbara and major in music and she was extremely disappointed that I didn’t. And it was a hard one, because I’ve always loved music, but I’ve also always loved making art, and I had to make a choice. But probably because I’ve always been into music is another reason I started working with records.

GH
How important is possessing a social or political awareness for you and does it factor into your work? I’m especially thinking in terms of environmental issues. In one 2016 work you did in collaboration I believe with the team at Dieu Donné, you created these absurd brown paper bag prints with various recycling logos reproduced on it.

BW
Yes, that was Dieu Donné, it wasn’t literally a paper bag, but looked like one, with the handles along the edge. All the images on them that were things scanned from real paper bags, you know, like manufacturing names or “made by so and so.” But back to your question about the political content, I think that it’s there but I really don’t go very much into that, in what I think my work is about or how I want to talk about it. Especially nowadays, I am so sick of this dumbed down political work that talks to you like you were a complete idiot and also has to put some giant text on the wall explaining what it all means. In a way, I think all work is political anyway. It is a political act to make art in the first place, given that it’s such a crazy thing to do.

I’m hugely into environmentalism. I’ve gone to many protests, I sign petitions literally everyday, which hopefully do some good, it’s better to do it than not. But my work is not about environmentalism. It’s a subtext and I think anybody with a brain would make that connection, but I’m not saying “oh, think environmentalism.” I don’t want to be didactic. If you want to go out and do something, that’s going to help more than making some art or telling people something they already know. Art changes the world in a different way than educating people about political issues.

B. Wurtz: Three Important Things - December 15, 2023 – February 15, 2024 - Viewing Room - Garth Greenan Gallery Viewing Room

Kitchen Trees, 2018

Stainess steel frame with powder coated colanders, aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans, plastic fruits and vegetables

224 x 159 inches

GH
Some of your sculptures have an air of the sacred, as if they were ritual objects. I’m thinking in particular of works like Untitled, 2017 and Untitled, 2018, similar to other works you’ve called “fetishes.” Is there any place for the spiritual or the sacred in your work?

BW
It’s not like I would personally be interested in what a fetish was, but just interested in that they exist in the world. Because there are some of them which are sort of like ritual items, but ritual items that have nothing to do with any religion, but what I guess have to do with art. I’m not going to call art a religion, but art is a big force in the world. I would say art is a much healthier force in the world than religions are. I think art is a gift to the world, that’s what I feel like when I look at somebody’s art that I really love, I feel like “god, I’m being given a gift.” Maybe I do have reverence for art, but not as any kind of religion. Because I think religion is destructive, ultimately.

GH
Some of your sculptures, like those you did for the Public Art Fund, seem to cheekily reference classic Modernist predecessors. In this case, I can’t help but think of Brancusi’s endless column. Were thoughts like these present when you were making this work?

BW
I think a bit, yeah. Because I’m super interested in art, I just am. I think I do sometimes, I don’t know if it’s an homage, like that little edition with the wooden base with the can with the sock on top, I certainly thought of Brancusi for that. It’s not like I need to mimic other art, but I’ve been inspired by art that other people have made and maybe like referencing it a bit. It’s kind of interesting. Nobody ever works in a vacuum. I’m not in favor of plagiarizing or disrespectfully borrowing from other artists, but there is a whole other level of inspiration from other art which is what makes art interesting.

Thumb-Show

Thumb-Show Thumbnails
Western Airlines Snack Tray, 1980

Western Airlines, snack tray and wood 

13 1/2 x 15 inches 

$12,000

Western Airlines Snack Tray, 1980

Western Airlines, snack tray and wood 

13 1/2 x 15 inches 

$12,000

Inquire
Untitled, 2017

Gold intsel, wire, metal and wood

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2017

Gold intsel, wire, metal and wood

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Inquire
Green Bowl, 1987

Wood, modeling paste, acrylic and metal

9 3/4 x 12 x 5 inches

$6,000

Green Bowl, 1987

Wood, modeling paste, acrylic and metal

9 3/4 x 12 x 5 inches

$6,000

Inquire
Untitled (Know Thyself), 1992

Canvas, thread, acrylic and socks 

$10,000

 

Untitled (Know Thyself), 1992

Canvas, thread, acrylic and socks 

$10,000

 

Inquire
Untitled (Red and Green Can), 1998

Can, paint, ink on paper, metal

6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches

$8,000

Untitled (Red and Green Can), 1998

Can, paint, ink on paper, metal

6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches

$8,000

Inquire
Untitled, 2018

Ceramic, red plastic object, blue plastic tacks, wire, metal and wood

13 1/4 x 6 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2018

Ceramic, red plastic object, blue plastic tacks, wire, metal and wood

13 1/4 x 6 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Inquire
Untitled (Blue and White Checked Hand Towel), 2018

Photograph on polyester silk

17 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled (Blue and White Checked Hand Towel), 2018

Photograph on polyester silk

17 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Inquire
Untitled (Pan Painting), 2018

Acrylic on aluminum

9 x 9 x 1 5/8 inches

$2,500

Untitled (Pan Painting), 2018

Acrylic on aluminum

9 x 9 x 1 5/8 inches

$2,500

Inquire
Untitled, 2019

Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string

26 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches

$10,000

Untitled, 2019

Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string

26 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches

$10,000

Inquire
Western Airlines Snack Tray, 1980

Western Airlines, snack tray and wood 

13 1/2 x 15 inches 

$12,000

Western Airlines Snack Tray, 1980

Western Airlines, snack tray and wood 

13 1/2 x 15 inches 

$12,000

Untitled, 2017

Gold intsel, wire, metal and wood

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2017

Gold intsel, wire, metal and wood

14 x 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches

$5,000

Green Bowl, 1987

Wood, modeling paste, acrylic and metal

9 3/4 x 12 x 5 inches

$6,000

Green Bowl, 1987

Wood, modeling paste, acrylic and metal

9 3/4 x 12 x 5 inches

$6,000

Untitled (Know Thyself), 1992

Canvas, thread, acrylic and socks 

$10,000

 

Untitled (Know Thyself), 1992

Canvas, thread, acrylic and socks 

$10,000

 

Untitled (Red and Green Can), 1998

Can, paint, ink on paper, metal

6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches

$8,000

Untitled (Red and Green Can), 1998

Can, paint, ink on paper, metal

6 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches

$8,000

Untitled, 2018

Ceramic, red plastic object, blue plastic tacks, wire, metal and wood

13 1/4 x 6 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled, 2018

Ceramic, red plastic object, blue plastic tacks, wire, metal and wood

13 1/4 x 6 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled (Blue and White Checked Hand Towel), 2018

Photograph on polyester silk

17 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled (Blue and White Checked Hand Towel), 2018

Photograph on polyester silk

17 1/2 x 17 1/8 x 3 1/2 inches

$5,000

Untitled (Pan Painting), 2018

Acrylic on aluminum

9 x 9 x 1 5/8 inches

$2,500

Untitled (Pan Painting), 2018

Acrylic on aluminum

9 x 9 x 1 5/8 inches

$2,500

Untitled, 2019

Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string

26 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches

$10,000

Untitled, 2019

Mesh bags, wood, acrylic, screws, string

26 1/2 x 8 x 1 inches

$10,000

Born 1948 in Pasadena, California, B. Wurtz is best known for his playful and compelling sculptures constructed from discarded materials like produce packaging, construction lumber, and plastic bags. He received a BA from the University of California at Berkeley in 1970 and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, in 1980. The sculptor and painter currently lives and works in New York. While his sculptures are often modest in scale, in 2018, the artist created his now iconic Kitchen Trees for the New York City Public Art Fund, transforming City Hall Park with towering columns of colorful colanders exploding with plastic fruit. 

Garth Greenan Gallery is pleased to represent B. Wurtz.

B Wurtz: Three Important Things will be available to view online through February 15, 2024. For more information, please contact Garth Greenan Gallery at (212) 929-1351, or email info@garthgreenan.com.