L.A. Expanded: Notes from the West Coast
A weekly column by Catherine Wagley
Two years ago, I met this guy, an artist from New York who was in L.A. to collaborate with an Indie rocker. I met him the day I was rendezvousing with someone I’d met through Twitter — we both wrote about art-like things, had similar taste, knew some of the same people and kept responding to one another’s tweets. So we thought we should meet in person. The Twitter friend had blogged about this New York artist (the one collaborating with the rocker) once and so the New York artist texted the Twitter friend to say, “Hi, I’m in L.A. Want to meet up?” The Twitter friend thought the New York artist was someone else, someone he knew better, and invited him to breakfast. After he figured out with whom he was breakfasting, and after they’d finished their meal, the Twitter friend, whom I had yet to meet in person, brought the New York artist with him to rendezvous with me. By the end of an afternoon spent gallery hopping in Culver City, the New York artist and I were convinced we’d met before. “Maybe at an opening or a party,” he said. “It’s a really small world we traffic in,” I said, meaning the art world is small. “I know,” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”
I thought he was right: it is embarrassing to go to a meeting, reading, or opening and recognize half the people there. It impoverishes the world’s bigness and, sometimes, makes my own likes and interests seem about as wide and deep as a cocoon. But sometimes it also feels cozy.
B. Wurtz and Co., the show that’s up now at Richard Telles’ West Hollywood gallery, feels cozy. It’s about B. Wurtz — the New York-based artist who has been working since the 1970s, making delightfully, elegantly underwhelming art out of raw wood, plastic bags, wire hangers, stray socks and the like — and how he resonates with other artists who do or have worked in similar veins. The curator, Matthew Higgs, directs the New York alt space White Columns and chose the show’s title because he liked the title of a 2001 photography show that started at MoMA and traveled to The Getty: Walker Evans & Co. This earlier show delved into resonances between Depression-era documenter Evans, his contemporaries and his successors. Of course, Wurtz is different than Evans, in that he’s less famous and probably less immediately legible, but still, writes Higgs, the “serendipitous correspondences – both formal and psychological” between his work and the work of other artists are worth noting.
When you walk in, you see plastic bags of staggered heights hung on thin wood poles attached to a wood stand by B. Wurtz. You see a pyramid of cobbled-together cat photographs by Vincent Fecteau on one wall and, on another wall, strips of rubber, locks of hair and paper twisted together by Richard Hawkins cascading down toward a shoe box on the floor. There is a framed collage of coin package wrappers lined up by Gabriel Kuri. Found objects are carefully re-purposed and composed in formally intelligent ways. Nothing even veers toward maximalism; this is minimalist abstraction made out of what you’d find blowing through the streets. It’s easier to appreciate if you’ve seen what minimalist abstraction looks like when it’s highly, expensively fabricated and commanding. This work commands and demands nothing; it’s happy to just exist for those who care to notice.
In an interview B.Wurtz may have conducted with himself (I have yet to confirm this, but the questions were certainly posed by someone particularly familiar with the artist), the interviewer asks where Wurtz made his work for a 1998 show. Wurtz answers, “in my apartment, the roof of my building, my studio, or a close friend’s garden. I saw no reason to go further.”