10 November 2014
Richard Tuttle: I Dont Know. The Weave of Textile Language.
Whitechapel Gallery: 14 October – 14 December 2014
Tate Modern Turbine Hall: 14 October 2014 – 6 April 2015
by john ros
LONDON — Richard Tuttle (b. 1941, New Jersey, USA) in London. A fellow American walking the streets just past the all-too trendy Shoreditch, on Whitechapel High Street. Sprawl is impending, some say already in full force. Then through the hoards of tourists on Millennium bridge to the majestic old power station on Bankside. Less than 2 miles apart, each gallery holds a part of Tuttle’s new presence in London. I imagine him walking this distance, collecting material, calculating the nuance of the London air and estimating space as he does so effectively.
The Whitechapel Gallery houses the modest retrospective entitled Richard Tuttle: I Dont Know. The Weave of Textile Language, throughout three galleries from 14 October – 14 December 2014. The simplicity [ease? facility?] with which the work seems to fall into place in each gallery is uncanny. Walls almost feel propped up by art, floors quiver with activity. There is a sense of active participation with both the artist and the subdued curatorial persistence. Forces are present, but non-combative. The spacing between pieces is generously poignant as elements hover in place. The most effective works are the simplest and include; wire piece, 1971-2; fiction fish, 7, 1992; 3rd rope piece, 1974.
Exhibition labels, though elegantly adorned with poetry, are unnecessarily heavy and slightly askew. Less a thread cast from piece to piece, the labels are a connective tissue, a cloak that hides the logic of arrangement within the space. They do not refer to the piece in its closest proximity, and might even refer to a pieces across the room. While I am inclined to appreciate effort to make the audience work, this arrangement is in conflict with the ease at which the show falls into place.
Tate’s press release discusses the placement of works at Whitechapel as an installation by Tuttle. “Rather than displaying the works chronologically, the artist … instead position[s] works in a formal relationship to each other and in direct response to the architectural framework of Whitechapel Gallery’s historic exhibition spaces. A concern with colour, line and movement runs through Tuttle’s intuitive presentation which will occupy both ground and first floor galleries….” This play in placement is actually one of the best elements to the show overall. Like a show within a show, we are able to walk within a Tuttle installation among many of Tuttle’s individual works. He reveals secrets, subtleties and silences.
As we enter the first gallery (Gallery 1), we are greeted with, Systems VI, White Traffic, 2011. Typical of Tuttle’s assemblage pieces, this momentous alter combines natural and synthetic material including wood, fiberboard, polystyrene foam, synthetic mesh, terracotta, halogen lamp, ceramic, vinyl coated steel cable and wire. A poem concludes:
…this aspect of the
textile has language at its base and
colours a language to suit a phrase
notwithstanding art. forms of
imitation surround the base, but
open up the centre on a field of
Contradictions in material relate to the idea of a non-denominational alter. A space to contemplate, meditate? And what of the contradiction of material on the gallery floor, not in the exhaustive, post-modern theoretical sense, but in the physical sense of material and spirit? This piece opens up the dialogue, as if Tuttle himself is asserting a new reading of his action: an elegant reading of element and material to moment and molecule.
This same attention (from Gallery 1) is brought through to the third and final gallery (Gallery 9) with Systems XI, 2012. The odd, seemingly precarious construction of the support interacts directly with the wooden box adjacent to it on the floor and with the 2×4 wrapped in yellow fabric hovering above, as if in homage or sacrifice. A coiled tube painted silver sits on a board tilted over stained cloth on our closest side. The piece pitches backward toward the construction. It is in motion, as if a kinetic sculpture seized the moment just before collapse. Its tension is tangible. It feels human in its machine-likeness. The weight of silver paint and brown metal bar placed within the not-so-complex structure adds to the tension and somehow directly relates to the viewer standing in front of it.
Tuttle’s response throughout the physical space is subtle, though he seems to be at his most evident (yet easily over-looked) in the 2nd gallery (Gallery 8). His chosen arrangement seems to refer to the stairwell that leads to the gallery. Discs on the wall from Clutter, 2008–12, and the totemic Type, 2004, mimic the windows in the stairwell. The Present, 2004 reacts directly with the color of the chandelier, lighted by 4 colored bulbs. Even 3rd Rope Piece, 1974, is mirrored in a stanchion that functions as a barricade. These relationships are obvious enough to tempt the viewer to dismiss their importance, creating the sense Tuttle is telling an inside joke to himself.
Besides the labels, there are a few other missteps. A low plinth would have worked better than the rope stanchion in front of Ten Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself, 1973, a sculpture consisting of eleven shapes made of white string placed directly on the ground. In truth, the piece almost needs to be directly on the floor. The stanchion makes it too difficult to really enjoy the elements within the piece, especially in relation to the room, and completely destroys any efficacy the piece might otherwise hold.
In contrast to the subtle and soft actions in the galleries at Whitechapel and across the river at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, a new large-scale sculpture presented with the same title (as the whitechapel exhibit), resides and will stay through 6 April 2015. This enormous piece seems cramped, unnecessarily loud and unfinished. The contrast to the poetically configured Whitechapel spaces is drastic. It is as though the whitechapel exhibit was made outside of the Turbine Hall entirely and the installation team decided to jam the piece into the space even after they realized the dimensions were off. If this was our only experience to investigate, Tuttle would have shortchanged himself. With the elegance of the Whitechapel installation in recent memory, Tuttle’s words hover: “For a lot of people, art serves as a security—‘I know what I like,’… But it is quite possible to have the other kind of people for whom art is an adventure. For me art is a kind of food, a food for the spirit.” This spirit is present here. Too large. Perhaps too confrontational. Like a giant, gasping for air, limited in motion, suffocating under the weight of its own skeleton. The seeming desire for airiness in the fabric is contrary to the weight of the piece and is unfortunately rendered insignificant.
Awkward scale shifts aside, Tuttle is a welcome visitor to London. His remarkable sensitivity shifts space into dynamic, energies that resonates in the soul. The contradictions within this dual conversation is off-setting, but oddly pleasing. It allows room for error. A blip. A sidestep. Important actions to remind ourselves while we stand on the ground, looking up, experiencing our surroundings.
Images provided by John Ros, 2014