Acrylic on waferboard, 20 1/4 x 26 inches, 1996
A few notes about Richard Tuttle. His retrospective closed this past weekend, where it was on view at the Whitney Museum in New York. I managed to make it to the show just in time.
Richard Tuttle’s work rewards looking and then looking again. The work, which at first blush can appear self conscious in its modesty and seemingly casual execution, goes on to display a finely calibrated, rigorous, and ultimately generous formalism. Sometimes offhand details, such as a shadow cast by a piece of wire nailed to the wall, can shift your sense of perspective violently, and you realize that you’re looking at a sculpture that strongly feels it was born to be a drawing. Looking closer, you realize the shadow the wire casts on the wall is echoed in the form of the thinly drawn pencil line that lies right next to it. The more you look, the more you realize that every formal element in the work is calculated to resonate not only with the other parts of the work, but also the other sculptures next to it, in addition to the space in which the work lives. It’s as if Tuttle made a piece of art whose purpose was to describe itself to you, slowly and patiently. It’s a good conversation.
At the retrospective in New York, I went along on the guided tour. While I can’t describe Tuttle’s work as secretive, I did find out about a lot of things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. For instance, if a piece falls off a sculpture, Tuttle will often leave it there if he likes where it’s fallen. Also, an arrangement of cut strings on the floor was installed a few weeks after the show was opened. Tuttle likes to come in every few weeks and rearrange things in the exhibition, often creating new works in the process. Many of his pieces (including the wire piece I described above) are recreations of work made decades earlier, drawn entirely from what he calls “muscle memory.”
If you’re in NYC you can still see a grouping of works from the 1970’s and 80’s at Nyehaus. If you want to look at a large group of works online, try his gallery’s website. Art21 (on PBS) has featured Tuttle, and you can see excerpts here.The retrospective is traveling on to Des Moines, Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Try and catch it.