Richard Tuttle: Works on Paper
September 24 through November 21, 2020
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, November 2020
Given his age, Richard Tuttle belongs to the minimalist generation that matured in the third quarter of the twentieth century. But unlike such maximal artists as Richard Serra, Tuttle has deliberately eschewed the monumental in favor of a more intimist esthetic. This means that he tends to work in a small and offhand manner, emphasizing the offbeat and ingenious over the grandly monumental. The show at Brooke Alexander underscores the small, precise forms found in the prints Tuttle makes. He is a poet of the intimate suggestion, precisely considered; we recognize his connection with the experimental poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, his wife of decades. In this fine show, Tuttle demonstrates a precision of form that challenges the inchoate efforts of much contemporary art. The particularity of his details indicates that much good work can be done, even now, within carefully defined boundaries that do not constrain so much as shape the work active within them.
Cloth (2002), the name given to the suite of sixteen etchings, comprises a group of small works notable for their color and abstract design. As a group, they don’t relay a narrative so much as develop intuitive relations from one etching to the next. The first work, on the upper left, consists of thick swaths of orange and yellow, which hang over a conglomeration of triangular ellipsoids--black, red, yellow, blue--which are mottled and also a bit transparent. While the shapes refer to nothing but themselves, at the same time, they stand out as a cohesively arranged composition. In the work directly right of the one described, we see two lavender columns on top, above a pale green passage, with a linear edge that gives way to a formless expanese of color. Beneath that is a rough band of dark green, slightly curving at upward the ends. These two etchings, given to abstract flourishes, can be seen as indicative of Tuttle’s essentially non-objective vision, in which forms pool and accumulate structures specific to themselves, without referring to external circumstances
An earlier work from 1978, Two with Any Two, consists of three differently made prints: a lithograph, an etching, and a screenprint. It does indicate minimalist influence: on the left, there is only a thin, red, vertical line traversing the center left of the paper; in the middle sheet, on the bottom right, we see a small, dark green triangle; and on the right, we find two thin, closely spaced blue lines far to the right edge. As simple as these forms are, they relate to drawings and less monumental forms, so that the minimal impulse toward a grand statement is rejected. But while Tuttle may be an artist of small effects, that does not preclude the work from being ambitiously achieved. In Print (1976), a simple, upward-rising bar, in black, crosses the line of two pieces of handmade paper. There is a lyric simplicity to the two works, which emphasize the notion that there is a simplicity adjacent to minimalism that is not beholden to it--this detachment is achieved by Tuttle’s diminutive scale, which, as we know, does not preclude large accomplishment.
Tuttle is an artist of subtle craft and high intelligence. He remains original in works that date several decades back. Mostly he has made the duration of his professional life in New Mexico, which means that he has kept minimalism and the New York School at a distance. We can only admire the unusual formal intelligence of his art, which persuades by indirection rather than by wall-like assertion. There is one small sculpture in the show; a pair of two small ovals composed of bleached cotton, called Paris 1966-New York 1982 (1966-82). Like the two-dimensional work, the piece conveys a subtle reading of how the simplest of forms can take on weight and meaningfulness--at least in part because they eschew complexity! Tuttle is a master of the smaller image, which rely on the cumulative effect of his pictures to result in a point of view that is at once contemporary and peripheral to much of the art made today. We don’t necessarily need largeness as an indicator of ambition, and this is something Tuttle understood from the start. This show reclaims a place for the understated, even as it also arrives at a large point of view. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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