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I Have Words by Richard Haden. A review of “TUTTLE” at David Castillo Gallery

Installation view of TUTTLE at David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

The group exhibition TUTTLE at David Castillo Gallery closed recently (Sept. 13th – Oct. 4th) to make way for this weekends opening of “The Continuing Adventures of Our Heroine”, another [this time all female] group show curated by gallery artists Pepe Mar and Aramis Gutierrez. Amidst the calm subsequent to this long awaited exhibition, Tuttle’s namesake and fellow artist Richard Haden of Miami reflects upon Castillo’s Fall Season opener…

How is the work of a devout modernist reflected in the practice of six post modern, Miami artists?

Tuttle is an artist whose career spans over 40 years. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he continues to evolve as his career and works strive for authenticity; He continues to manage a relevancy while others drift away to obscurity. On the flip side, his work passes through time with little mnemonic glue leaving little to inscribe onto the active magic pad of our minds. It is as though each time a Tuttle is in view it re-materializes and reanimates its peculiar space each time as fresh as the last until I forget. What I can’t remember about the thing itself is approximately replaced by the poetic affect of the experience. His work is twice distanced; once for the lack of referent and again for the dislocated space between the work and the eye and ear as he claims.  As the distance is made strange, his constructions disarm expectations. Like looking at a Giacometti figure they seem remote, set off into another plane hinting at a metaphysical structure that supports all things. He redefines distance in a predefined amount of space greater than the gallery floor.

Left: Richard Tuttle works at the Armory Fair, 2006, NY. Right: Alberto Giacometti, Woman with Her Throat Cut, 1932. Bronze, 34 ½ inches. Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY.

Tuttle’s work refers to things other than this world. As a Modernist / Post Minimalist his object referent is replaced by a careful child-like awareness that leads away from the mimetic to dislocation of the known. Several reviews of his work describe it as being crafted by clumsy manipulation, as if his hands were in the way. Regardless of his modus operandi, his method is sourced and flows from the contingent. One can leave a Tuttle exhibition to find all things around us fresh and new again; in effect saying: I like my art ascetic and life constantly renewed.

Tuttle likes to say, “I do not have language”;” I greatly appreciate language more because I do not have it”. “Throughout the ages so few have had language.” And so on. But unlike most artists, one can better understand Tuttle by listening to or reading his interviews.

Early in his career he describes being without word or language, but perhaps influenced by his wife Mei-mei Berssenbrugge he became a man of words, or of letters. As his work evolved in the eighties it took on a literate perspective. As he says in so many words: I once made art to take all the words out of the viewers mouth…to leave one speechless…now I have a foundation based on language…

Left: Richard Tuttle. Right: Thomas Hirschhorn

With a Modernist sense of the Utopic path forward, a clear body of work and now “words” to make potent his all but unclear, transcendent musing– life is real and art is real but in different locals. He has a wonderful poem called “Close to Art.”  A recording of it can be heard at Penn Radio.

Like Thomas Hirschhorn, also a fan of Spinoza’s monism, Tuttle describes a Monistic point of departure from which he tries forging a new path to authenticity. His groups or series of constructions are like monads vectoring in the labyrinth, looking for a way out.

Earlier in his career, the days of colossal modernist production Tuttle made his constructions / expressions in a much smaller scale. In contrast to Richard Serra his work is intimate. Despite its size, Tuttle’s work implies a larger world beyond the edge. What we see from Tuttle’s perspective is a truncated portion of a larger environment like Barnet Newman’s painted “zips”.

Barnett Newman, Concorde, 1949. Oil and masking tape on canvas, 89 ¾ x 53 5/8 inches. George A. Hearn Fund, 1968 (68.178) Courtesy of Barnett Newman Foundation

As with his titles, Tuttle’s art is smart Art but it would be a mistake to overemphasize the theory in it. His compositions are like others who in dissonance carry out insurgent control. “Tuttle’s production is some of the most visually oriented art of his generation”–in his way a Bower Bird formalist or as another critic describes him, a “Peacock formalist.”

Occasionally some of Tuttle’s titles refer to the shapes of his pieces / similar to the meticulously made objects of Martin Puryear His forms are made of paper, cardboard, wire, paint, or other found materials. His (a)musing collages drain the appearance of sign, but are similar in spirit to Kurt Schwitters, but without the human and figurative baggage.

Martin Puryear, Old Mole, 1985. Red cedar, 61 x 61 x 32 inches. Philadelphia Museum of the Arts: Purchased: The Samuel R. White, 3rd, and Vera White Collection (by exchange) and Mr. and Mrs. C. G. Chaplin (by exchange) and funds contributed by Marion Stroud Swingle, and funds contributed by friends and family in memory of Mrs. H. Gates Lloyd.

Kurt Schwitters. (German, 1887-1948). One One (Eins Eins), 1919-20. Cut-and-pasted printed and painted papers on paper on colored cardstock, 10 1/4 x 9 ¼ inches. Gift of Philip Johnson. © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Tuttle is constantly investigating the classic issues of line. His lines are as metaphor for drawing, memory, history, and so on. His line placement, gyres, waves, arcs, crooked line, solid and so on. They are lines that reduce until they are re-emboldened. His lines can resemble a Cy Twombly scribble or a thick painterly line of Franz Kline. Tuttle’s lines never approach nothingness but instead spin out into a written line of art history. It is tied to the strings and dangling of Alexander Calder and others greats of “String theory” if you will (pun intended).

So, is this exhibition at Castillo’s, an exhibition of Tuttle disciples or those inspired by Tuttle or merely the excuse to put up another theme show?

As I am always the sucker for an inquiry into the realm of Art, I took the bait from a retreating ARTLURKER…and I’m going to run with it.

Nicolas Lobo, Transformative Park / Private Sculpture, 2008. Styrofoam, PeaRoeFoam, machine woven carpet, Dimensions variable. Edition of 3. Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

Nicolas Lobo’s contribution to the exhibits is an enlarged Tuttle like construction, but unlike Tuttle there is no intimacy with Lobo’s piece. Lobo’s piece warns you to not get close. It has texture! If one is familiar with Lobo’s documented body of work, this piece is different from his usual pata-scientific drifting. If you have seen his latest stew, that brewing process of biological Petri dish fascination, you will understand how diverse this pataphysician is. His work is similar to the visual counter displays that caught Homeland security’s attention and inspired the FBI’s arrest of Steve Kurtz’s BioArt

This work, titled, “Transformative Park / Private Sculpture” is visually close to what a Tuttle protégée, or co-conspirator might produce. But unlike the fecund prolific stream of Tuttle, Lobo operates in a more studied, finely crafted environment.

Lobo’s work operates inverse to Tuttle as well as similar to his process. Lobo employs the everyday, malleable, ordinary stuff, like Tuttle. He also includes everything from ground up, recycled older examples of his work, to his processed bio fare. He uses industrially made elements such as polystyrene, plastics, organic split peas, play-dough and so on to augment his pallet.

Lobo usually plays as practitioner and adventurist in a world of reification, where he instantiates abstract imagery by concrete instance. In another piece, not in the show, he substitutes the 2-d abstract instance of a graph into the world of material presence. Sort of an old Platonic thing…Tuttle is the other way around, he reifies the thing from a muse not a model.

Lobo’s piece in this exhibition is a fragment or trace of graffiti made real. He chose to use a tag he found on a public sculpture as the model for his sculpture. Lobo transferred the tag and used its trace as an element for him to draw and build his base. He hides the tags original context and meaning. As Tuttle erased his trace of language / word, Lobo does the same by adding texture and a mirroring rug. He adds a diet of superfluous Post cereal Styrofoam and split peas to make it seem all the more democratic.

Molly Springfield, Untitled, 2008. Graphite on paper, 11 x 17 inches. Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

Molly Springfield investigates margins (marginalia), the re-presentation of reproduction versus produced authenticity and other concerns. She would appear at first sight to be more the Serra fan– as can be seen by an example of Serra’s works on paper, “Clara Clara 1″.  But her “Untitled” work in this show is appropriately in line with Tuttle’s. By erasing the trace she is similar to Tuttle. In the eighties Tuttle started to incorporate letters and words, which he claims were his new adjustment to the philosophical realization that language underlies it all. In this new context he produces work by drawing text, words or letters on to the surface of his work. Drawn from a lexicon of language, and lexemes his new inspiration is to transfer literate things from grey matter to the page.

Richard Serra, Clara Clara I, 1985. Paintstick on screenprint, 37 x 72 inches. Courtesy of The Paul J. Schupf Collection

A quote from a conversation with Tuttle might illustrate “my” words: “On the first real painting that I made in New York, I wrote out three different texts from the philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, and then painted them out. At the time I thought, okay, I’m going to eliminate language from my efforts to communicate. But as I went on I saw that there had to be words there before I painted them out. In a way, words were the structure in which I made the decision not to use words.”

As in Springfield’s work, she leaves the trace of the scanned texture, markings, gesture, and the remote vagueness of sign…as a smart fit to this exhibition.

The modern world of neuroscience makes one wonder if there really is such a thing as abstract to begin with. But I suppose that is another topic for another nominalistic day.

Jenny Brillhart, Pink Wall, 2008. Oil on panel, 25 x 35 inches. Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

Jenny Brillhart’s painting “Pink Wall” shares Tuttle’s power of composition. As Tuttle is with his composing applications of color, line and form, she is with organizing the banality of the everyday into that same relocated place of contemplation and form.

She plays with the laws of Form and loosens the recognizable site by extracting certain detail. This renders the composition lean. After visiting her web site it is easy to see other examples of her work that would have served as stronger examples for her inclusion here. Brillhart’s oeuvre does what great composition does well; it dislocates and sets meaning aside. Her work also works well with Tuttle’s belief that Beauty is not a subject of art. He describes beauty as a byproduct to composition. It is merely what is left behind. He compares beauty to a trail of slime left behind a snail as it moves along. A sublime slime perhaps… Nevertheless, she fits the ever-expanding envelope that is postmarked: C/O Tuttle’s residence. Address unknown.

Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, An Upended Lamp, 2008. Found lamp, 12 x 12 x 24 inches. Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

Then there is Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, thanks to whom this exhibition came together. At the beginning of this review I mention that there are six postmodern artists in this exhibition. That should have read ‘five post and one modern.’ The odd one here is Leyden. It is hard to peg him “not” a hard core Modernist. Perhaps it is easier to claim him to be a soft-core neo minimalist. But in fairness he is bit of an enigma.

Leyden offers us his typically found, bought, borrowed and commercially available functionally up ended resuscitated and hijacked objects. Once functional now retired to re-functioning, reborn tabula rasa style, blank glo-banality. He wants us to experience a reification of up ended platonic ideal. Plato’s ideal describes a hierarchical order that objects suffer in his philosophy. First each object has the divine original, which can exist as secondary on stage and thirdly made real by a craftsperson. Leyden places his objects as anathema to our world. He performs as modernist / minimalist with the same transcendence and disturbing distance that dislocates value and surplus. He comments on what we take for granted. (That almost sounded like a post argument) He shops for us and ask us to consume an experience of transcendent zap. It is as though he wants to clear out a space for the new episteme.

Like Tuttle’s desire to blaze a trail beyond (his version) of monism, Leyden tries to sell us this jargon with the least amount of effort and with the subtlest alterations. This works well to fine tune the objects mercurial centripetal / centrifugal dialectic of imploding / exploding velocity. His oeuvre also functions as the tropilogical—as they take on the appearance of dysfunction while plugged in or rearranged. Other works that Leyden exhibits function as utopic marker. They try to focus the location for personal contemplation, like Tuttle’s work does. But unlike Tuttle, Leyden’s work lacks a sense of production. Like others who work in the business of Idea art, Leyden’s works work well as spectacle…not relationally as other “Non” modernist.

Mnemonically, Leyden’s work functions in opposition to Tuttle. As Tuttle’s imagery is hard to remember Leyden’s sticks in our mind. It is those mass-produced consumer items that Leyden has a fetish for that stick in ones craw. That is when I imagine Leyden wearing Tom Scicluna’s preacher robe. For he is the alchemist who turns our broken Wal-Mart Rococo back in to Baroque. We see the secular cleric, Leyden Rodriguez ceremonially furnishing our abode Casanova style.

Left: Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, THE FIRST CABINET STRUCTURE, 2007. Customized prefabricated cabinets, 90 x 74 x 98 inches. Right: The Shrine of Ezra, The Jewish Prophet. Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

Tom Scicluna, Robe Mirror Flag, 2008. Robe, mirror (36x24in), flag mount. Courtesy of David Castillo Gallery, Miami.

Tom Scicluna is another beast all together. His esteemed contribution to this church of secular Tuttle is titled, “Robe Mirror Flag”. It looks the part for such a high brow Modernist installation. A Preacher’s robe / graduation gown hangs over a mirror supported by a flag-less bracket. The robe, mirror, and flagpole mount were lifted from the space next door, which is Scicluna’s usual modus operandi. He likes to make his art out of things found in the vicinity of the place in which he exhibits, in which he displays. His piece illustrates his fondness for bricolage; in this regard his affection for the foundation of language is similar to Tuttle.

He invites us to a graduation of sordid affairs, to look into a mirror that reflects toward the direction of Castillo’s newly annexed space that was once another ceremonial chamber of worship. Christians performed and prayed in their secular way over there. As we look in the mirror we can imagine ourselves as Gentrifying colonizers who reunite the space between opposites. Again we can look into the mirror at our other and fanaticize ourselves elite coteries or left leaning “lettrist”, or subversives or political posers graduating to situationist spirit and shine. We can imagine our part in this human agency, in charge, and bereft of nation and border. I notice the missing flag that implies a space free of fideism and parochial jingoism. Each element is a part of the language of dissent and support for those who wave NOT a false flag of mirroring mimicry.

Oh yes, there is that transcending and distancing thing going on in his work, as well…for if one wants to be political in art, one first has to be a little or a lot like the anti socialite. In order to size up the enemies field we must look from a distance to activate the radical. After which we gradually descend transcending aesthetics, in order to return to the civil ground of communication and exhibition Of course he is unlike Tuttle as Modernist escape artist but in post haste modern language Tom Scicluna is perhaps a bit weary of Dada and the modern misuse of the found “floating signifier”. But what the hell…what are you going to do but muddle on in the hall of Tuttle?

Frances Trombly, A rope, 2008. Linen, Dimensions variable.

Last but certainly not least; Frances Trombly, a hyper-realist, is here? That might surprise some. But the object’s use in art is not what it used to be. Trombly transcends the antiquated role played by past realists–that of the academic artisan whose job it was to mimic the already banal.

The overused term “Floating signifiers or “empty signifiers are a term used in Semiotics to denote signifiers without referents, such as a word that doesn’t point to any actual object or agreed upon meaning–that thing that has yet to become sign.

Trombly’s piece in this exhibit has more to do with getting over that dullness. Since her last solo exhibit, she manages to exceed her past work. As the strength of wrist and technique of craft is but a beginning for a fan of Hyperrealism’s elite progenitors. (Barthes, Eco, Jean Baudrillard and so on) Trombly’s “Rope” catches up with contemporary art’s desire for a visually rhetorical object. It becomes a grounding thing for the discursive side of things.” Rope” doubles as (line) or anchor. The Line speaks volumes just as Tuttle’s words do.

Trombly’s line makes reference to Tuttle’s first museum show at the Whitney (the exhibition that brought down the vilest criticism and the probable firing of the curator Marcia Tucker). Trombly’s work also alludes to Tuttle’s use and interest in the ‘classical problems of line’. She installs the subtle hand woven “rope” as a laconic device to sum up his explorations of line as tension between the artist’s control and the element of chance inherent in shaping material composition. Trombly mimics Tuttle’s “floor drawings” by winding her piece along the floor past the demilitarized zone up onto the wall, as an up ending affair. The line, however haphazard, can range from an abstract drawing to a line anchoring instantiation. Tuttle’s wire-Trombly’s Rope alludes to a shared history of art. Again as Calder and others have so plainly shown, the line drawn is a shared history as a curved, broken, and sometimes-knotted things go. The string is that one liner that we all have hanging in common; a shared universal history. String theory or a line drawn through it.

Tuttle’s things are all hand made, as “they” say, with hands in the way. Frances Trombly’s things are hand made, as “I” say, with her hands very much in the way-a good way.

Tuttle’s legacy and influences aside, what I find interesting with Richard Tuttle’s words are his concerns that contemporary alienation has aided in digressive wonderings down the path to ontological crisis. To explain his point Tuttle refers to Joseph Beuys’s words that contemporary man is no longer connected to material. Here is an excerpt from an interview:

“…Because I don’t believe in anything and I don’t want to contradict that! That something can be done is what’s interesting—and that whatever it is that can be done, has no connection, not even with light—that’s something that interests me more and more at the moment. I made this portfolio called “Plastic History,” using three texts, two from the Seventeenth Century and one from the Twentieth Century, and I serendipitously chose Beuys for the Twentieth. I used the text of an interview he did in London, where he spoke about how contemporary man is no longer connected to material. His argument is quite convoluted. However, the last line of his text is, “Now, man walks alone.” Meaning that we don’t walk in any connection, any relation, to material. Shocking, most of us still think we have these connections and want to depend on them, but they really aren’t there. The truth is we are not connected. This so-called “site” specific work—artists are saying there’s no connection with site, it only looks as if there is. You have to state the enemy in order to defeat the enemy. When you look at Richard Serra’s sculptures at Larry Gagosian, where are you? You’re nowhere. That’s what he’s saying. He’s not saying: “These are two pieces at Larry Gagosian. How perfect the proportion.”

So if the truth is that we are not connected, then language is all the more necessary to tie all the contingencies back together again– reconnecting us to our Others from the Capital of being and nothingness, to the final solution: Pukka Jouissance [.]

–Richard Haden


For more information about Richard Haden please visit our Guest Writers Page

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I Have Words by Richard Haden. A review of “TUTTLE” at David Castillo Gallery