Some of the readers of this blog will be surprised to read that I love Richard Tuttle’s work and for that reason I think that the fact that he is, currently, exhibiting at the Whitechapel Gallery (his textile works) and at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (also his textiles works), is both good and bad news. This shows how today’s art institutions require from their otherwise modernist artists to deploy the sort of media that would allow those institutions to justify the use of such space and expense. I am saying this because in their attempt to canonise the work of this septuagenarian artist, both occasions (Whitechapel and Turbine Hall) are dedicated to showcase the kind of work where Tuttle does not shine because in spite of all other considerations, Tuttle is a modernist who has created sculptures that look like installations but which, in fact, are not. It is high time we start recognising that difference and if we don’t want to do it, at least, we should know the reasons. Big works at low cost to justify big institutions.

Richard Tuttle installation in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall

This might be the reason why Sherman Sam in Art Review has decided to use certain attributes for his work that are more suited for the lyrical arrangements of objects typical of contemporary romantic ‘stageist’ minimalists such as Latifa Echakhch but not for a modernist like Tuttle. Let me be more clear. In the second paragraph of his article on Richard Tuttle in Art Review’s October issue, Sam says: ‘First categorised as ‘post-minimalist’ (Robert Pincus-Witten), ‘antiform’ or ‘eccentric abstraction (Lucy Lippard), Tuttle’s earliest works (produced during the early to mid1980s) were, as those attempts at categorisation suggest, spare, organic and abstract, but unlike his minimalist predecessors, the qualities of Tuttle’s artworks were not rooted in mathematical rhythms or reductive logic. Rather, the rationality of cut-paper octagons attached directly to the wall, or a line drawn on the wall and then extended into space using wire and its shadow, just served to underline the wobbly, poetic difference between himself and his more austere predecessors’. Well, this is confusing and might lead us to believe that Richard Tuttle is closer to Latifa Echakhch or Adrian Villar Rojas than to Agnes Martin.


I think this confusion might derive from Tuttle’s interview with Bob Holman (published in Bomb magazine) where he refers to his Wire Pieces (1971-2) ‘as close as I’ve ever gotten to pure creative energy’ because ‘time and time again, the intellect robs the creative’. And he concludes: ‘The creative is pure and separate and as high intensity as possible’. Without enough visual evidence we are led to believe that the intellect and the creative are altogether different things which transforms Tuttle into a romantic of sorts. He was, in fact, reacting against the scientific vocation of geometric abstraction, however, his aesthetic project is a very intellectual (and un-romantic) exploration of….visual ironies. Thus, there is nothing ‘poetic’ or ‘lyrical’ in his works. In fact, I would say that his ‘sculptural constructions’ are rational attempts to integrate contradictory forms in one figure for contradiction’s sake. That is why he refers to his works as non ‘originary’ spaces because they are, by definition, syntactically unstable. Formally, they always work as sculptures and paintings to be seen by moving around or frontally. My problem with commissioning him a work for the Turbine Hall in his seventies is that it might lead us to believe that his work is gigantic and installationist while it is exactly the opposite. So I wonder whether Tuttle is dancing to the sound of the mermaids after all. J A T