Fountain, 1965; Acrylic on plywood; 1 x 39 1/8 x 38 3/4 in.;
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;
50th Anniversary gift of Richard Brown Baker, © Richard Tuttle;
photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
While at the wonderful Des
Moines Art Center
a few weeks ago I was able to take in their fantastic version
Art of Richard Tuttle
retrospective. It ended today, June 11th. Sure it was
an impressive show at both SFMOMA and the Whitney but the DAC offered some exciting
new twists, especially a not to be forgotten Tuttle vs. Richard Meier showdown.
The show was installed in both the Eliel Saarinen and Meier wings of the DAC and
the difference between the two is part of the special magic this version of the
show had. All of the other museums presenting this show have only one architect
for their space, Botta, Breuer and next up at Chicago's
, Joseph Paul Kleihues (these are my favorite museum galleries anywhere).
Each version of the retrospective would have to be different as Tuttle is an
idiosyncratic and pragmatic artist. He adapts and instead of cultivating ambivalence
he engages both his materials and space in precise, unfussy and subtle ways.
Tuttle practices the art of insinuation. It is personal so let's just liken the effect to visual whispering. Still, don't mistake that for being inward, Tuttle is an
aggressive artist. By turning down the volume the viewer has to listen carefully
with more than just their eyes and there is a bodily relation to even the flattest
wall mounted works.
Tuttle is also massively influential to artists like Phoebe
and a host of others. Tuttle is especially influential in San Francisco
Deffenbaugh's Bay Area Bazzar
show illustrated. Still Tuttle's different
(less fussy, more confident) and more succinct than all those later artists
who simply add a little glitter or fill a room. One day Id love to see a show
with Tuttle, Rauschenberg & Klee, he holds up in the top tier of combine
artists. Artists like Julian Schnabel and Washburn do not belong there at the
top and never will.
There were many highpoints to choose from like 1964's Silver Picture
from 1965. Both display a gift for condensing and harnessing
gravity. Similarly, Paul
would begin his composition classes at the Bauhaus admonishing his
students learn to control gravity in their work.
Other highpoints were 8th Wood Slat
(1974) and the 25th wire piece
(1972). Both are Trojan horses in their environment, the Eliel
Wing of the DAC. His Nordic Art Nouveau style is warm, boxy and
Tuttle subtly shifts expectations with the slat piece
is it part of the
museum? Did someone screw up when they built the museum by not finishing the
trim? This would be a completely different piece in Breuer's brutalist architecture.
The show continued through the Saarinen wing as if the two were made for each
other and Monkey's Recovery #3
from 1983 was like some kind of softened
eggbeater for art weary eyes. A few of the floor pieces like Six
seemed a little cramped but not in a bad way, more like they were all secretly
plotting some revolt and the viewer had just stumbled in on their conversation. Quiet but... suspiciously quiet. Tuttle is a master of insinuation
and that extends to how he manages the viewer's expectations.
So what happens when Tuttle runs into Richard
's own very aggressive architecture? ...some seriously funny stuff.
Highlights were predictably New Mexico, New York #14
(1998) and another
masterpiece the 8th Waferboard Piece
New Mexico, New York #14, 1998; Acrylic on plywood; 22 3/4 x 10 1/2 x 1/2 in.;
Collection of Susan Harris and Glenn Gissler, New York, © Richard Tuttle;
photo: Tom Powel, courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York
Then things get funny. In one spot where Meier has strategically placed several
square windows thereby making the curved wall unusable for most artists, Tuttle just ignores convention by
breaking the rigid plane of window symmetry with framed pieces like Table and Chair
(1990). It's like Tuttle
took the opportunity to create an arty breakfast nook by going out of plane! I can picture Meier getting
complaining how that wascally Tuttle was making "footy prints
all over his desert" This was Tuttle dressing in drag and aesthetically
giving Meier's building a big slobbery kiss MMMMMMuuuuhhhhh!
In another area nearby, Meier created a cramped but large wall. Something that
invited large paintings but due to its tight placement near another wall would
normally remain bare (some architects only fantasize about bare walls in a museum
with no art, Meier gets to build them. That is until Tuttle puts a string leading
to a Chinese finger puzzle near the floor. The Chinese finger puzzle is an apt
metaphor for the situation, it's only a constraining situation if you pull, Tuttle
condenses and liberates.
Tuttle isn't a formalist or constructivist like some have occasionally written,
he creates psychological states that only enfranchised freedom, careful attention and pragmatic
vigilance create. The man's a liberator and his art is his very civilized insurrection.
Meier's tyranny was just another pragmatic opportunity.
One final treat was DAC curator Laura Burkhalter's revelation that they had
acquired a later Tuttle, Floor Drawing #19 (Sentences III)
, that coresponded
to an early work in the collection by his now departed friend, Agnes
. Agnes Martin, The Garden, 1958, painted wood
Des Moines Art Center's Louise Noun Collection of Art by Women, 2001.29
Richard Tuttle, Floor Drawing #19 (Sentences III), 1989
Acrylic paint, wood, ceramic light fixtures, natural canvas
Purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust;
Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 2000.16
Together the two works reminded me of the mementos of Marsden
(specifically his Portrait of a German Officer
) and helped me to understand their aesthetic conversation. It's classic
case of a museum continuing to develop a unique coherent collection. Perfect.
After the retrospective ends the Tuttle and Martin can converse in the same room together. Art doesn't so much cheat death as prolong the elements of life.
Fine review, Jeff. I saw the show at SFMOMA and found the drawings sublime.