Pardon the Interruption, Please
Sept. 10th - Oct. 10th
Kim Foster Gallery
By MARY HRBACEK, OCT. 2015
The Will Kurtz sculpture exhibit “Pardon the Interruption, Please,” on view at Kim Foster Gallery, presents narrative sculptural vignettes linked to performance art that rival theatre in their dramatic expositions. Here collage comes to visceral life in the hybrid constructs of figural works constituted of newspaper, materialized to recreate street drama in the gallery that becomes a quasi-theatre space. Kurtz transports sculpture out of the realm of the ideal into the province of the super-street real in metaphoric human forms camouflaged by text headlines and orchestrated torn colored paper. Classic proportions from by-gone cultures are superseded, inevitably transformed by the contemporary fascination with the archetypes of city street culture, whose intransigent manifestations are disconcertingly familiar. The dramatic elements of pathos, compassion, humor, tension and potential conflict infuse these scenes with highly charged emotional potential for catastrophe and comedy alike, with the scales tipped toward the culmination we all face in the end game.
Kurtz replaces clay or the traditional bronze with the pictures and text from recycled print publications, expanding collage into three-dimensional forms. Do not be mislead; although newspaper is typically considered a throw away item, these works are archival, sealed with multiple layers of sun resistant UV spray. Kurtz re-positions a technique that Picasso and Braque brought to the forefront early in the last century. Picasso extended collage by applying it to his oil paintings; it soon became accepted as a unique form of modern twentieth century art. The technique of collage has a long history. There is proof that it came into use when paper was first invented in China circa 200 B.C.E. In the 10th century Japanese calligraphers augmented the paper surfaces of their poems with glued text and paper. Its use can be traced to medieval European cathedrals in the 13th century. In the early 1860’s the Victorians experimented extensively with photo-collage. Surrealists especially favored the cut-paper and photo-collage techniques.
Kurtz positions his characters in relationship to one another, which in life as in art can generate incidents, commotion and theatrics. The various anecdotes conjure familiarly appealing cop TV series; his subjects include a caretaker who is unaware of her charge, cops eyeing a staggering street drunk with wariness, dogs at play attracted by an overloaded trash can, a character handing out leaflets, and an old “bag” lady pushing a walker. The artist has a soft feeling for the downtrodden, which he demonstrates by his expression of the details of their demeanor, their body language, their pets’ personalities, and their “fashion” choices. Kurtz perceives their vulnerability before authority figures; those with no power, position or money are typically unable to articulate their “voice.” This is not the “high end” of the human market that Donald Trump is bent on representing. By its focus, this show champions a spectrum of humanity that contributes diversity to NYC’s demographic mix.
Since his solo exhibit in 2012, the artist has established a deeper mode of expression. He now anchors the figures with battered keynote props, insuring that every item has been punched, stepped on and manipulated to a believable level of age and use. Telephone poles with “one way” signs affixed, overflowing garbage cans, and stacks of recyclable cardboard heighten the psychological charge inherent in his subjects’ potentially threatening facial expressions and body language. Another poignant theme is Kurtz’ involvement with dogs. He presents them crouching and playing, their fully articulated anatomical features well displayed. On the street, dog walkers soon discover that their pets provide an icebreaker. Dogs bring back childhood associations with the family pet whose adorable antics made the travails of youth almost bearable.
The sensitivity Kurtz employs to imbue his subjects with genuine pathos creates a complex viewer response; their quirkiness, their clothing, their expressions, stances and overall plight makes one want to laugh and cry at the same time. In an era of technologically addicted viewers unaccustomed to focusing on their feelings, the sense of humanity suffused in the works may be overwhelming. The recycled print and pictures provide a subtext with stories of its own, of the violence and global upheavals. Kurtz is an underground sociologist who probes society’s weak and under-privileged. An elderly ‘bag’ lady is seen pushing a scuffed up walker, an aid that is becoming common on NYC streets, a harbinger of the future, as the baby-boomer generation grows older. He is a psychologist who infuses two cops with a swaggering expression to mask their fear and vulnerability. Badges, holsters, hats and official cop shoes are perfect facsimiles of the real thing.
Kurtz’s imaginative expressions of street life never degenerate into irony or sarcasm; The touching and typical old man sporting a “beer belly” is transformed into a comic superhero on the skids, who reduces the viewer to a confused response between laughter and tears. Kurtz is a good-natured street spokesman who realizes that “there but for fortune may go you or I“ (lyric by folksinger Phil Ochs). This is collage come to life in an endearing fierce prod. The artist is in charge of his chosen medium; his sophisticated sculptural techniques and grasp of anatomy give his art an edge that extends beyond the contemporary to deliver a humorous universal wake up call. WM
Mary Hrbacek is an artist who has been writing about art in New York City since the late 1990s. She has had more than one hundred reviews published in The M Magazine/The New York Art World, and has written in print and on-line NY Artbeat.com, Artes Magazine, d’Art International, Culture Catch.com and Whitehot Magazine. Her commentary spans a broad spectrum, from the contemporary cutting-edge to the Old Masters.view all articles from this author