The Immaculate Pan Paintings of B Wurtz

The New York artist gives the humble aluminum staple of corner delis the luster of stained glass windows.

(From left) Untitled (pan painting), 1996; Untitled (pan painting), 2002.

Disposable baking pans, round and rectangular takeout containers—for nearly 30 years, B. Wurtz has been painting these commonplace wares, transforming them into bona fide artworks that suggest immaculate Portuguese tilework or, as he sees them, flowers. “As long as they aren’t getting bumped or sat on,” he says of his iconic pan paintings, “they’re rigid and perfectly happy to exist in their state of equilibrium. But at the same time, they’re extremely delicate.”

Wurtz, who lives on New York’s Lower East Side, has steadily grown the series to include hundreds of individual pieces that have been shown at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, England. Next year, his pan paintings will get their own monograph, published by Hunters Point Press, and a gallery show at Metro Pictures.

B. Wurtz’s Untitled (pan painting), 1992.

Wurtz has always found inspiration in the ordinary—the more banal the object, the better. “I’m a person who likes to make stuff out of found stuff,” says Wurtz, who has incorporated items like plastic bags, shoelaces, and buttons into his sculptures. “I don’t want to use things that are so interesting that they’d sit on a shelf and be art on their own. They would have too much personality.”

B. Wutz’s Untitled (pan painting), 2002.

Every once in a while, Wurtz will drop into the 99-cent store or his local Fine Fare market to see if any new patterns are in stock, and he always wonders about his unknown co-collaborators. “I love how these anonymous artists make these patterns very related to ’70s hard-edged minimalist paintings, and I simply choose the colors. Half the painting is already done,” he jokes, noting a recent trend toward wiggly motifs. Would he ever attempt to identify the pattern artists? “Finding out who did them would ruin the mystery.”

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