At Lulu, a tiny Mexico City project space run by Chris Sharp, B. Wurtz presents a small gem of a solo exhibition, with recent and older works that continue his thoughtful exploration of everyday experience. The original Lulu space, a small room located inside Martin Soto Climent’s studio building, features a single piece, Bunch #4 (1996), a tree of plastic shopping bags supported by a black metal stand. The bags, a common motif in the artist’s work, are white or brightly hued; some are printed with the words ‘Thank you’, or feature commercial logos. Wurtz repurposes the familiar detritus of consumer society into a colourful sculpture that is at once exuberant and restrained. With its tree-like form, Bunch #4 speaks of another vision of nature, one thoroughly inseparable from the humans who transform then discard its raw materials.
Wurtz’s work feels at home at Lulu, which is housed in a quiet residential duplex. Just outside the gallery, a painting on undyed linen, Untitled (Know Thyself) (2015), commands the viewer to ‘KNOW THYSELF’ – an injunction that appears throughout Wurtz’s practice. Here, rather than adopting the artist’s familiar cursive, the words have been painted in black capital letters; the text is partially concealed by a smaller piece of black fabric smeared with colourful daubs of paint, resembling an abstract expressionist painting or, perhaps, a well-used studio drop cloth. In a subtle intrusion, black shoelaces dangle from the bottom of the banner. Is this where we are to locate the self or self-knowledge: somewhere between the aesthetic and the commonplace?
More of Wurtz’s regular materials appear in a storefront space next door. This brightly lit gallery, a classic white cube in miniature, features one wall fully open to the sunlit Mexico City streets; it’s an eloquent parallel to the interplay between the conventions of both artistic practice and quotidian life at the core of Wurtz’s work. Here, five of the artist’s recent sock sculptures are displayed on pedestals, echoing the verticality and poor materiality of Bunch #4; each comprises a single sock – useless, only half a pair – topped with a black or white shoelace tied in a bow, presented like a shabby gift. These are balanced atop small, formal constructions of marble, wood, metal and wire, which temper the scrappiness of the socks; or, perhaps, the socks temper the formalist artistry of their supports. All untitled with straightforward descriptive parentheticals – such as Untitled (Red with green stripes sock) (2016) – these works are characteristically humble, with an earnest appearance that belies their humour and internal logic. They generate a sense of balance between the attentively hand-wrought and the casually discovered, elegance and banality, lightness and weight.
Like much of Wurtz’s work, the pieces on view at Lulu share a handmade quality that suggests a tender fascination with rubbish, particularly that which will fail to decompose, as a kind of cultural footprint. Yet, if the artist preserves what we reject, he is equally committed to considering what we need. As far back as 1973, the artist delimited his purview to what might be considered the essentials of living in a formative drawing that notes: ‘Three important things: 1. eating 2. sleeping 3. keeping warm.’ These are the three categories from which the artist draws his materials, transforming them into art – a genre that is, arguably, inessential. However, Wurtz’s art – perhaps because of its common materials, or the subtlety and generosity of his approach – feels intrinsic to a life fully lived.