Christopher Kurtz: The Traveller cannot see North but knows the Needle can

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A series of fine wooden constellations that will be suspended just above the floor, Christopher’s new sculptures explore the push and pull between craftsmanship, sculpture, design and fine art as a single installation that celebrates his chosen material.

Christopher is a master of handcrafted wood – in his hands it takes on a supple and almost biomorphic quality. Raised in Missouri he studied both sculpture and landscape architecture before assisting Martin Puryear (who is representing America at this years Venice Biennale) where he played a pivotal role in fashioning Puryear’s sculptures. Like is former mentor, Christopher’s works are highly intelligent in their use of material and formally inventive. He is fascinated by form – both traditional and modernist – and takes inspiration from architecture and furniture design as much as he does from nature and recognises no difference between ‘art’ and ‘design’. Indeed he adopts the same artistic approach and dedication to pieces that are fantastical as he would to those that are functional.

Glenn Adamson – Senior Scholar at the Yale Centre for British Art and author of Fewer Better Things: The Hidden Wisdom of Objects (2018) – describes Christopher’s work as “magic,” going on to say: “Yet another resonance, still more fundamental, is that with the human body. Encountering an array of Kurtz’s sculptures, one is immediately struck by their varied postures. They are like so many dancers on stage, or fencers with rapiers drawn, en garde. Each has its own unique and characterful stance: a radiating burst; a slow spiral; a drastic asymmetry; a single intersection, source code for all the others. Some of the compositions are systematic, with modules that repeat. Others more individuated in their parts. All, however, are worked out intuitively at the bench, each angle a matter of improvisation. Even the overall orientation, determined by the axis of suspension, is open to question until the works are completed. And even then, they spin with the slightest current of air, rotating like the celestial bodies they so strongly evoke.”

The vast scale of the barn presents the perfect backdrop to these new works – physically slight, composed of slim limbs of linden wood, each constellation is tapered with a drawknife before being joined together into converging vertexes – the sculpture then covered with white milk paint to create a seamless surface. Christopher is one of leading lights of a body of makers from up state New York that have been dubbed ‘the Hudson River school of Wood sculpture’ – his skill at rendering pieces so thin that they challenge the tensile strength of their material as well as the wits of their maker.

 

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