|Richard Tuttle: Sperone Westwater
Artforum, June 2003, pg. 184.
1 June 2003
A kind of quirky retrospective, this exhibition begins with Richard Tuttles latest work, a series of 20 Pearls (all 2003), moves a year backward to sixteen Blue/Red Phase: Drawings, then goes further back to the 1997 Botanic Rendering: Inverleith House (a work in 10 parts), and finally leaps forward again, concluding with four works from Between Two Points, 2001. To complicate matters further, tucked away in the corner of the first gallery is the sculpture Yale Piece, 1973: Two wood panels kept upright and parallel by nine crisscrossed wood struts, each painted a different bright color. Is there any consistency among this seemingly infinite variety of works? Yes: Apart from Yale Piece, theyre all intimate, eccentric, and oddly organic. Indeed, they seem to be mutant blooms from some hypothetical hortus conclusus. They also recapitulate the history of gesture; vibrating sensation and amorphous brushwork become dramatically one, as in 20 Pearls (14). Its as though Tuttle were trying to update Kandinskys improvisations, while cognizant of the fact that improvisation has become dated, if not entirely obsolete, as Tuttles own quivering works demonstrate. Each Pearl is in fact a composite of seemingly random color gestures, all more or less integrated around a central division, or vestige of structure. Luminous pearls form around irritating foreign matter, and Tuttles own natural gemstheir indwelling luminosity as eye-catching as their irksome irregularityseem to be made of a new kind of foreign matter: mineralized color.
Tuttles obsession with the abstracted natural is evident in all the works on view. The earlier ones are more conspicuously structured, however bizarrely. Again one thinks of Kandinsky, but this time his Bauhaus period, which featured a singular integration of geometry and gesturegeometrized gesture and gesturalized geometry. Structure is whats at issue in Yale Piece so called because it was made for an exhibition on the Ivy League campus); its an attempt to breathe expressive life into geometric abstraction, which, with 60s Minimalism, had fallen into the dead end of flat affect. The work makes clear the generally polar architectonics of Tuttles works: By dint of both color and position, the brightly hued struts are at odds with one another, and the parallel panels are, in turn, at odds with them, making for a certain tension. This is the most taut of the exhibitions worksan ingenious reconciliation of opposites that leaves the two unreconciled. Tuttle seems to have loosened up as he developed, yet this tensionthe sense of irreconcilable with the reconciledsurvives (just barely so in the Pearls) as a trace in those central divisions of the later works. Moving further away from Minimalism while retaining a minimal lookfor theres an economy of means here, despite the organic flutter and compositional intricacyTuttle arrives at a kind of precious, introverted, miniaturized maximalism. His gestures and geometry may be the fading signifiers of a dying modernism, but they have not lost their transcendental importhowever uncertain, and however regressively bound to an impressionist sense of slippery nature, they may seem.