B. Wurtz: This Has No Name at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Shotgun Review

B. Wurtz: This Has No Name at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

By Becca Roy-O’Gorman February 5, 2019

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Becca Roy-O’Gorman reviews B. Wurtz: This Has No Name at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

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“Don’t look at art. Look at the world.” These instructions appear in cursive script within a painting in B. Wurtz: This Has No Name, the artist’s first major survey exhibition in the United States, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Wurtz’s art employs humor and irony to depict a world in which the mundane becomes monumental and the ubiquitous becomes unique. His materials are sourced from everyday life: plastic shopping bags, yogurt containers, aluminum baking trays, and other household items that have exhausted their original use value. The works on view combine and reorient the formal elements of these materials to create sculptural vignettes and allegorical paintings. Wit and whimsy are readily at play in one work in which an Athenos-brand hummus-container lid hangs like a pendulum under a makeshift structure resembling the Parthenon, with a wooden dowel and string becoming the columns, lintel, and pediments.

These readymade materials are rife with their own aesthetic merits and cultural associations. Combining fine-art objects and disposable goods in unassuming ways, Wurtz creates uncanny objects that are simultaneously familiar and strange. Wooden painting palettes, for example, function as centerpieces in two large works with non-stretched canvas that call to mind Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines,” hybrid works that eliminated conventional distinctions between painting and sculpture. In Green Basket #2 (1994), the geometric shapes of a Parcheesi-board-like design covers the canvas while a wooden palette holds carpet squares, a green plastic strawberry crate, and four tin cans with socks hanging out of their open tops. The curvy palette parodies historical tropes of artistic labor while its use as sculptural form signals the obsolescence of conventional forms of painting. 

B. Wurtz. Green Basket #2, 1994; installation view; canvas, acrylic, paint, wood, tin cans, cloth; 120 x 120 x 3.5 inches. Courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

Wurtz’s subtle, almost absurd critique of the tools and iconography of painting traditions challenges ideas about consumption by subverting the value of fine-art materials and artistic labor. Using such objects as a bread bag or a pen that has run out of ink, Wurtz foregrounds the everyday debris of life and suggests these materials as antidotes to rigidly defined tropes of painting and hierarchies of materials. By imbuing quotidian objects with the gravitas of Greek architecture, or the austerity of Minimalist sculpture, Wurtz reveals that we can see the sublime in the useful by looking at the world around us.

B. Wurtz: This Has No Name is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles through February 17, 2019.

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