Christopher Kurtz grew up in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. He completed his undergraduate work at the Kansas City Art Institute; studied landscape architecture at The GSD at Harvard University in the Career Discovery Program; and received a BFA in sculpture from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, New York. After college, he spent five years as the studio assistant to renowned artist Martin Puryear. During his tenure with Puryear, he refined his woodworking skills and began maturing as an artist.
This period of apprenticeship ended in 2005 when Kurtz set up his studio in the Hudson Valley in New York State, the same year he received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Award. Working mainly in sculpture at first, he soon felt the pull to explore his passion for furniture, experimenting with one-off and limited-edition pieces. This was timely, as shows like Design Miami/, which launched in 2005, were bringing collectible design into the consciousness of American collectors more forcefully than at any other time previously. Two years after founding his own studio, as he continued to explore both sculptural and furniture forms, Kurtz was awarded a New York Foundation For the Arts (NYFA) Award as a Lily Auchincloss fellow in 2007.
By 2008, Kurtz had solidly embraced both art and furniture, expanding his studio practice to include limited-edition and small-batch-production furniture in addition to sculpture. Through his affiliations with some of the most respected collectible design gallerists in the world, his works have been introduced to global audiences during design fairs, and through group shows and solo exhibitions. About his Linenfold Armoire, which was included in R & Company’s exhibition “Objects: USA 2020,” a revival of a 1969 show with a similar theme, the exhibition’s curator Glenn Adamson wrote in “Critical thinking|Difficult issues: Works of Faith” in :
“Kurtz was interested to learn, while developing the idea for his armoire, that linenfold, and the Gothic, or ‘perpendicular’ style more generally, reached their height in the wake of the Black Death of the fourteenth century. The relative austerity of the style reflected a shortage of available labor—so many craftspeople had died—but also, as Kurtz puts it, expressed a need for ‘pure expression of form, confronting the gravity of mortality and loss.’ Seen from this perspective, the insistent verticality of linenfold is a diagram of apotheosis: a sheaf of vectors, all pointing up to heaven.
As Kurtz also notes—using a line attributed to Mark Twain— ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ At a time of plague, making the armoire has given him focus. ‘I’ve wrestled with the issue of how and why to make art,’ he says, ‘when so much of the world population is sick, dying, or has lost their livelihoods and homes.’ The magnificence of his carving, however implicitly, provides his response. And to my way of thinking, it’s deeply meaningful.”
In 2019, a stunning solo exhibition of Kurtz’s work was staged in the U.K. at Messums Wiltshire. Titled “The Traveler cannot see North but knows the Needle can,” the installation included white Meridian sculptures and Black Hole benches, which were powerfully placed and eerily lit within the interior of an ancient tithe barn. The curators of the museum explain why they chose his sculptures for a solo exhibition: “Christopher Kurtz first showed at Messums Wiltshire as part of ‘Material: Wood’ in the summer of 2018 and his participation—alongside his stellar talk on his work and evolution into one of the most exciting makers working in wood—resulted in an invitation to create a solo response to our thirteenth century barn. The exhibition consisted of a series of fine wooden constellations suspended just above the floor, and Christopher’s new sculptures explored the push and pull between craftsmanship, sculpture, design, and fine art as a single installation that celebrates his chosen material.”
This push/pull illustrates one facet of Kurtz’s philosophy that has grown resolute during the past 15 years as he has honed his craft and cemented his reputation as an artist on the world stage: the art and furniture he creates have a symbiotic relationship in his process. He does not look at the twin disciplines as separate, choosing instead to embrace both and encourage the influence each has on the other to flow unimpeded.
This stance has been a shift in consciousness with a number of artists and designers, and gallerists and curators during the past several decades. To understand just how prevalent it is, read the powerful essay Adamson wrote for the catalogue of the solo show at Messums Wiltshire on the Catalogue page.