Since 1990 B. Wurtz has produced an ongoing body of work that he calls “pan paintings”—a series of charming wall pieces made from dispoable aluminum food containers and baking pans purchased at local grocery and variety stores. The artist paints over the patterns found on the undersides of the pans with various bright colors of acrylic paint, highlighting the embossed shapes and lettering found on the exterior of the containers. This type of re-contextualization of found objects and materials is integral to Wurtz’s practice, transforming the ordinary into something remarkable and creating compelling new forms and compositions that nonetheless retain the distinctive identifying characteristics of their constituent parts.
“Many years ago, I remember thinking how I might talk about my work if asked to sum it up briefly. The phrase ‘daily life’ came to mind. I even used it as the title of an exhibition in 1993. The pan paintings come out of real daily life, and I think the aspect of the ritual comes from the fact that they have remained a constant in our world; at least our world in the U.S. I never remember not knowing of disposable aluminum pans, and their continued use shows no sign of disappearing…the only aspect that changes slightly is the patterns. Because of the addition of color, I think these pieces take on the character of ritual objects. It’s like dressing up one day a year to take part in a parade.”
The brilliantly patterned results recall a range of art-historical antecedents, including artisan tilework from across the globe. Though the works can seem like both paintings and sculptural objects, Wurtz has thought of them primarily as paintings from the very beginning of the series. “I love how these anonymous artists made these patterns very related to 70s hard-edged minimalist paintings, and I simply choose the colors,” he has said, creating what he terms “readymade abstract paintings.” The use of a mass-produced, ostensibly disposable material to evoke the exalted realms of art history and high modernist painting is typical of Wurtz’s understated inquiry into the status and nature of the art object. With a simple gesture the works neatly summarize Wurtz’s practice and concern with the materials that surround us. In September 2020, Hunters Point Press will publish the first comprehensive catalog of Wurtz's Pan Paintings.
B. Wurtz was born in 1948 in Pasadena, California, and lives and works in New York. He opened a major solo exhibition This Has No Name at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2018 while simultaneously presenting his first public commission, Kitchen Trees, through the New York City Public Art Fund. In 2015 he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, United Kingdom. In 2016 the exhibition traveled to La Casa Encendida, Madrid. He has had additional solo exhibitions at Kunstverein Freiburg; White Flag Projects, St. Louis; and Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago. His work has been included in group exhibitions at MoMA PS1, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon.
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