B. Wurtz, Domestic Space @Metro Pictures

JTF (just the facts): A total of 33 photographic and sculptural works, variously framed/displayed in the front and back galleries, the smaller transition gallery, and the entry area.

The following works are included in the show:

  • 8 paired works consisting of dye sublimation prints and objects (metal colander, electrical box, found object, metal lampshade, metal/rubber cheese grater, beige metal lampshade, metal printer part, and found electrical instrument) on wooden platforms/pedestals, 1987, prints sized roughly 27×40 or 61×41 inches, unique
  • 1 sculpture consisting of piano parts, speaker, metal, bottle caps, wood, show buttons, and buttons, 2018, sized roughly 25×64 inches, unique
  • 3 photographs on canvas with metal grommets, 2018, sized either 64×49 or 53×60 inches, in editions of 3
  • 14 sculptures consisting of 35mm slides in cardboard mounts, plastic bread ties, ceramics, screw, acrylic paint tops, buttons, metal lamp part, ink, wire, thread, wood, 2017, variously sized, unique
  • 4 photographs on polyester silk, with wood, metal, staples, 2018, sized roughly 18x17x4 inches, in editions of 3
  • 3 sculptures consisting of wood, plastic bags, metal stands, yard stick, string, shoelaces, screws, towel, sock, plastic lids, mesh, 2018, sized roughly 90x60x60 inches, unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Given the photographic print’s unique conceptual position as simultaneously both an image and an object, artists have, almost since the very invention of the medium, wanted to extend and explore the possibilities of this duality. Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs from 1965 is among the most famous examples of this interest, where Kosuth combined an actual folding chair, a photograph of that same chair, and a dictionary definition of the word “chair” into a triptych that forced viewers to consider the interplay of the physical, the visual, and the textual all at once.

While B. Wurtz’s new show has plenty of airy sculptural works that have nothing to do with photography, a surprising number of the works on view, both new and old, are rooted in the image/object oscillation described above. The front gallery is filled with works from the late 1980s that consider this duality via exercises in the reconsideration of scale and perspective. In each pairing, the specific subject of Wurtz’ attention is placed on a small wooden platform on the floor, with a much larger black and white photograph of that same object hung on the wall nearby.

While the objects themselves are quite humble (lampshades, a metal colander, a cheese grater, and other less identifiable machine parts and found objects) and feel particularly small in the cavernous space of the gallery, Wurtz’ photographs turn them into triumphant examples of design, using the underneath camera angles and close up attention of Modernism as an aesthetic guide. The cheese grater becomes toweringly architectural, its perforated sides turned into windowed facades. The metal lampshades are transformed into streamlined Bauhaus-like forms with burnished shines. And by looking up at and through the machine parts, they are given a kind the optimistic romance we once associated with industrial innovations. In each combination of thing and picture of that thing, Wurtz plays with scale, turning overlooked domestic oddities into trophies.

Wurtz’ more recent works (made in the past two years) return to this image/object theme in new ways. Large color photographs of small objects (yogurt cups, a bottle of vinegar, some glassware) once again reconsider scale, enlarging them far beyond their original size, but these images have a straightforward obviousness that doesn’t feel hugely novel or memorable. Better are his whimsical sculptures made from wood, wire, and other tiny knick knacks, where a bread bag tie and a 35mm slide of that same plastic object inhabit three dimensional space together, playing with variations of flatness and form and adding in the subtleties of turning and movement (as the slide is hung on a thread and twists in the airflow of the gallery).

The works that best wrestle with the image/object duality of photography are found in the back gallery. Here Wurtz has made photographs of ordinary kitchen dish towels, presumably hung to dry. In a clever conceptual twist, he’s printed these images on silk and hung them on wooden dowels mounted to the walls of the gallery. So instead of having actual hand towels hanging on racks, he’s given us stand-in images of dish towels hanging on real racks, the pictures printed on fabric, so they flutter in the wind, just like the original towels might. In these works, he’s bent the image/object conundrum back on itself in a way that seems effortlessly smart, while still retaining a mood of lighthearted and unexpected playfulness. They are a reminder that a seemingly simple artistic inversion can still pack a punch.

While Wurtz’ show certainly recalls some of the braininess of 1970s photoconceptualism, it does so within his own continued interest in domestic objects and the reuse of overlooked and discarded stuff. The engaging intelligence of these works is proof positive that the original image/object dichotomy nestled at the heart of photography still offers plenty of avenues for new exploration.

Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show are priced as follows. The print/object pairings in the front gallery are priced at $30000 or $35000, based on size. The sculptures including 35 mm slides are $4000 each. The large prints on canvas are $12000 each. And the prints on polyester silk are $5000 each. Wurtz’ photographic work has little secondary market history in the past decade (in either photography or contemporary art sales), so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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