Whitehot Magazine

February 2012: Will Kurtz @ Mike Weiss

Will Kurtz, Installation View; Courtesy Mike Weiss Gallery

Will Kurtz: Extra Fucking Ordinary
Mike Weiss Gallery
520 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011
January 12 through February 18, 2012

In his first exhibition at Mike Weiss Gallery, Will Kurtz goes on the offensive. Barraging visitors with a visual and textual onslaught of shamelessness, he broaches numerous American stereotypes using a language of aesthetic overstatement.  Upon entering the gallery the viewer is confronted by a defecating pit-bull, which merely serves as an introduction to the veritable house of mundane horrors that he has constructed out of commonplace characters and vignettes.

Kurtz masterfully manipulates his materials to achieve varying textures, creating highly naturalistic depictions of skin folds, fabric drapery, and animal fur.  His sculptures are constructed from popular media itself, employing conspicuously placed messages and imagery from newspaper clippings and emphasizing the grotesque, the unflattering, and the extreme.  By this means Kurtz addresses themes of obesity, poverty, and aging, and their pervading unpleasantness. 

In Extra Fucking Ordinary Kurtz’s sad sack characters follow in the same tradition of Diane Arbus and Duane Hanson.  However, his choice of medium makes his work decidedly less illusory than Hanson and less journalistically veritable than Arbus. Rather, Kurtz uses his artistic license to embellish and reinterpret the subjects he discovers in the streets of New York. Furthermore, the rigidity of his process produces unique effects in rendering human features, giving many of the subjects disturbing, deranged expressions.

One such example is a sculptural ensemble of what appear to be members of a pre-adolescent dance team posing in all of their youthful awkwardness and harboring odd, possessed gazes reminiscent of the Village of the Damned.  Statements of affirmation such as 'Keep Making Noise' and 'Just Go With It' cover the dancers’ bodies, emanating a spirit attuned to teamwork and perseverance. For this work Kurtz demonstrates the vapidity of these phrases, culled from movie titles and popular media, by removing them from their original contexts. 

The interplay that Kurtz draws between text and form forces viewers to move beyond their visceral reactions, and contemplate the nonsense inherent in the headlines and photos of popular media. The most intriguing aspect of this body of work lies in the multitude of ways the viewer can attempt to decipher the artist’s intended correspondence between images, texts, and the sculptures.  Through his use of newspaper texts Kurtz not only provides a time capsule, but also demonstrates possibilities of appropriating frequently regurgitated slogans and sayings. 

Despite the physically compelling nature of his aesthetic, Kurtz’s work can at times appear hackneyed or clichéd.  His references to American stereotypes ('uncultured', 'overweight tourists', 'exhibitionists', 'eccentric street people') can be overbearingly consistent; his penchant for gross-out humor can occasionally be mistaken for obvious one-liners. 

However, it is apparent that the beauty of Kurtz’s aesthetic lies precisely in his lack of subtlety and nuance. Sculpting images of squalor and degeneracy in a manner that surpasses the threshold of mockery, his unapologetic and sometimes repulsive sculptures belie the earnest lack of pretense attributed to 'everyday folk.' It is here that Kurtz demonstrates himself as an alternative to the esoteric intellectual effrontery of the likes of Damien Hirst.  Kurtz mines from a repertoire familiar and accessible to ordinary Americans, who after all, are at the very core of his work.

Will Kurtz, Dancing Girls, 2011; Wood, wire, newspaper, tape, hot glue, matte medium, 64 x 88 x 58 inches; Courtesy Mike Weiss Gallery

Will Kurtz, Red, 2011
Wood, wire, newspaper, tape, glue, matte medium, UV spray varnish, wood step ladder; 25 x 33 x 48 inches
Courtesy Mike Weiss Gallery

Stephanie Peterson

Stephanie Peterson is a New York-based writer. Her research interests include figurative painting in Europe, intersections between traditional and contemporary media, and the revival of historical techniques and themes as a means to cope with trauma. She is currently enrolled in the art history PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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