Al Wunderlich has been sculpting, painting and performing for decades. He attended Cooper Union in New York City and has taught art at the Rhode Island School of Design. But, standing in the doorway to his new pop-up show, Wunderlich’s Wunderkammer, he had no doubt as to his first love – adventurer first, artist second.
The exhibit at 3328 22nd St., between Guerrero and Valencia, is a collection of antiques from across the world, a small portion of the large collection he keeps at his home in Healdsburg. Everything in the show, which will be open until the end f June, is for sale.
There’s a fish trap from Borneo, made from chain link wire and wood carved like a totem pole, selling for $250. There’s a French cast iron bed frame that takes up the window space. There’s an early 20th century belt from Cameroon or Nigeria, made from metal, cone-shaped bells and rope. “It’s currency,” Wunderlich explains. He got it from sculptor Al Farrow, who lives in San Rafael.
Many, but not all of the objects, come from Wunderlich’s own travels. The lure of the latter started in 1957, when his history teacher in Oregon pulled him out of class. “Forget about the history,” the teacher advised and handed him a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, published that same year.
The traveling bug had been embedded. In 1963, Wunderlich received a Fulbright grant to spend two years in India, where he travelled over 18,000 miles within the country alone, and traded with Tibetan refugees for possessions they had carried with them across the border.
Wunderlich, a natural storyteller, strings together disparate places and events, much in the same way the pieces in the gallery space sit next to each other—a Japanese chest beside a Tibetan box, for instance, or an American bowl not far from a green burqa he bought from a dealer in Providence.
Delving into his past, he begins another tale: “I’m in Calcutta, John F. Kennedy is assassinated. I go into Indonesia, one day, for a 48-hour period, and I’m eating monkey brains. Next day, I get on a plane to Japan.”
Once in Japan, he said, he met his school friend Anthony Cox, who had left the United States after stealing experimental composer John Cage’s car. There, Cox connected with Yoko Ono, after rescuing her from an insane asylum, and eventually introduced her to Wunderlich.
On the gallery’s desk is a framed love letter from Yoko Ono. “My dearest,” it begins, in black ink, on a column of yellow paper. “Please take care of yourself.” It ends, “Love, Yoko.”
Wunderlich has photocopied it and offers replicas to people.
“She won’t speak to me now,” he said. (It’s because he has told too many people about their adventures together, he says)
A large number of objects in the gallery come from Japan. Wunderlich has two cabinets from what he calls the “Rolls-Royce of Japanese furniture.”
Then there’s the Japanese ceramic object, labelled “Funnel Shaped Thing,” priced at $25. Wunderlich said he has never figured out what its for. It could be a skinny vase. Maybe a candle holder.
For him, that’s the joy of the object. Once we get over the question of what it is for, he said, “the second question is: what it is.”
That’s what he finds so fascinating about these objects. They can do what he thinks good art can do:
He said, “They take you where you’ve never been before.”
The pop-up shop will run until the end of June.