Richard Tuttle at Sperone Westwater

Richard Tuttle, 20 Pearls (8) (2003), acrylic on museum board and archival foamcore, 19-3/4″ x 16-1/4″; courtesy Sperone Westwater

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I missed Richard Tuttle’s last show at Sperone Westwater and have been kicking myself ever since: Artists and critics whose opinions I respect extolled the virtues of Mr. Tuttle’s painted wall constructions. I was curious about this, because I’ve never paid much attention to Mr. Tuttle. His unkempt brand of Minimalism–so rarefied it hardly exists–always seemed to me one more 60’s holdover saddled with far too much critical and historical baggage. Had he, with his new work, broken free from the iron grip of Minimalism, that dull and deadly monolith? I made a mental note not to miss Mr. Tuttle’s next exhibition.

Having taken a look at the new exhibition, I’ve decided that all that kicking was misplaced. Mr. Tuttle has applied washes, splashes, drips, stripes and roaming brushstrokes to museum board and foam core, which he then cuts into irregular shapes and uses to construct two-tiered relief paintings. Vaguely Asian in their ease and vaguely lyrical in their palette, the pieces are mostly slack. I know Mr. Tuttle’s offhandedness is his charm, but he could’ve put some effort into giving the contours just a modicum of flex. As it is, the work is lazily at odds with itself and easily resistible.

Consider how these precious nothings are affixed to the wall–with a nail driven meticulously and conspicuously through the front of each piece. Mr. Tuttle is trying to tell us two things: He’s in charge, and metaphor is a cheat. Guess that means he’s still a Minimalist after all.

© 2003 Mario Naves

Originally published in the May 11, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.


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