I caught the last day of Tuttle’s show at Sperone Westwater in New York last weekend. SW on West 13th Street is an open, multi-roomed white space. It could be daunting for someone whose works are often delicate and small. But Tuttle fills the galleries to the brim with intimately-sized wall pieces whose only similarity is their armature of crudely cut plywood.
The show knocked my frequency up ten notches. How can you not feel hopeful about the world when you see what Tuttle can do with throw away-sized pieces of paper, chunks of wood, a piece of string here, a wire there? Simple, everyday objects are rendered enchanted, one after another.
Tuttle’s creativity has been inspiring me since his first Whitney show in the mid 1970’s. That show raised a ruckus. Here is Marcia Tucker’s account of that event:
In 1975, at the Whitney Museum in New York, I organized a show of the work of Richard Tuttle, an artist whose unconventionally humble materials (string, wire, pencil, nails, rope, cloth) and deliberately offhand placement of work appealed to me. Viewers came to the museum expecting to see traditional artistic skills and materials employed in the making of the sculpture, and to enjoy them in an appropriately formal setting, with explanatory wall labels and a substantive catalog of the artist’s past work. When they were disappointed in their expectations, visitors tried to rip the pieces off the walls. Critics and journalists complained vociferously about everything from the installation (which was changed three times during the exhibition, using many of the same pieces), to the publication of the catalog after the show closed (in order to include site-specific photographs as well the critical response), to the work itself. One reviewer griped that “seeing Tuttle’s work makes you scrutinize the teensy- weensy hairline cracks in the wall,” clearly not what he had come to expect or to value. Another made constant reference to “the Emperor’s new clothes,” and called for my dismissal (which, in fact, occurred in the aftermath of the controversy.)
Things have changed this then. His recent retrospective (once again at the Whitney and even more spectacularly at the San Francisco Museum of Art) was a huge success, winning Tuttle kudos for a genius career of art making.
One of the things I have always loved about Tuttle is that he keeps it fresh. Repeats almost never happen under his hand. He finds a brilliant constructed moment, acknowledges it, and then moves on to yet another simple but provocative juxtaposition of forms. Unlike some artists whose OCD tendencies drive them to work just one idea down to threadbare, Tuttle is always in flow to the next surprise of shapes, colors and composition.