Surface Conditionsby Nora Griffin
Richard Tuttle: 26
Pace Gallery | May 6 – June 10, 2016
In the mid-1960s Richard Tuttle invented a new form for painting. M-Violet-M (1965) is a slightly curved shape of creamy, white-painted wood. The painting is a complete object: the wood is visibly brushed with pigment on its surface and sides and cut with the inexactitude of hand into an organic-geometric form. The “violet” of the title is not visibly present in the physical work, but is instead felt. Tuttle’s minimalist language does not rely on the logic of mathematics, showmanship, or industrial gravitas. The rigor of his work comes from an internal life, but the materials are never subjugated to this private world, rather they are entwined together, like a perfect marriage of differences.
Richard Tuttle: 26, a micro-retrospective of the artist, included the landmark early paintings along with work from each of Tuttle’s twenty-six solo exhibitions. Tuttle is an artist who cannot leave space alone. For this show he effectively transformed the white cube into a total frame for his art with vertical, wall-mounted black cardboard structures, each with a subtly embedded electrical light. Adjacent was the original gallery information for the pieces, and corresponding bold numerals stenciled above them. The black shapes served as line breaks in a poem that could be started at any point.
Many beautiful strands of thought connect these fifty years of art making. An underlying one is the inherent value of materials and the sympathetic magic that material combinations possess. Certain works embody these ideas more clearly than others. In 10th Wire Piece (1972) three forms are described by the simplest means: a piece of wire nailed to the wall, a pencil line drawn on the wall, and the shadow cast by the wire that overlaps with the graphite. The real (wire), the pictorial (drawing), and an illusion (shadow) are brought into a tripartite relation. A reverie can begin on the ontological significance of this trinity while simultaneously the work can be enjoyed for its formal unity, the delicacy of Tuttle’s lines, and the performative gesture of its creation.
With a series of compact “crafty” sculptures made in the 1980s, an aesthetic attitude emerges that is shockingly precise (and highly copied by art students). Monkey’s Recovery II # 6 (1983) and Two or More I (1984) are made from corrugated cardboard, strokes of paint, twisted wire, and plastic. What is apparent with sustained viewing is that the sculptures were completed before the paint was applied. It is as if the paint marks compel the object into visibility. Tuttle here is playing with the concept of “painting” as seriously as he was in the 1960s. Part of the universal appeal for young artists is the ease with which these works are seemingly made, unhinged from the causality of art history, assembled from studio scraps, and gracefully attached to a white wall as if they had already attained masterpiece status.
The exquisite economy of Tuttle’s design is readily apparent in his large sculptures. In Systems 1 (2010) a feather and wood assemblage is suspended in air, held taut by plastic cords strung to four aluminum poles that are attached to plywood plinths. Details of the piece are fascinating: the object’s delicate balsa wood armature, paper clips fasteners, and the pleasurable contrast between plush silver fox fur and artificial yellow feathers. The buoyancy and space between the feather-thing and the wood plank is made palpable by the theatrically visible attachment system. The sculpture represents not a live animal, but instead the idea of a living form; it captures for lack of a more nuanced word, a spirit.
Two series of framed drawings, completed this year, cap off the show: Initial Space, No. 1-6, and Watching the Shelf, No. 1-8. The works are installed in an archive-like room with special lighting fixtures supplementing the gallery’s lighting. In the Initial Space drawings, brown matte board and Pompeii Red tape frame a rectangle of paper with pastel abstractions in pink, orange, green, and blue. The work has a classical, reserved elegance, and the three framing devices confuse our sense of where the drawing begins and ends. The pictorial quality is ambiguous, made with either the most focused attention, or the floating freedom of disinterest.
In the catalogue for this exhibition, Tuttle says that “society has to find a way to move from grief to joy.” The same emotional pitch is expressed in exhibition titles such as There’s No Reason a Good Man is Hard to Find (1988) and Walking on Air (2009). A walk through this unusually powerful show reveals an artist who is resolutely optimistic about what can be perceived through a sustained engagement with materials and the aesthetic decisions that materials ask for. Richard Tuttle’s work returns us to what is real, to the mind’s capabilities of perceiving infinite solutions to what he calls “surface conditions.”
is an artist based in New York.