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Richard Tuttle Lecture at MAM

Event flyer from MAM.

This Sunday past, Richard Tuttle, one of America’s most influential living artists gave a lecture at Miami Art Museum (MAM). True to form the lecture was dripping with subtlety and purpose. Sadly, however, it seemed that his efforts were not widely appreciated.

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 ironically, unlike most artists, one can better understand Tuttle by listening to or reading his interviews. Early in his career he described being without word or language, but later (as he likes to admit) he was 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.”

Sunday’s lecture began with Tuttle stating his supposed spontaneity – an ambiance which surrounds much of Tuttle’s undertakings – after which he proceeded to read; laboring over each word with a purpose reminiscent of Berssenbrugge’s phenomenological poetry. Despite the dull yet somewhat droll content of the lecture (musings of his relationships with collectors and their cats) his intent was modestly brilliant and yet hardly reflected by the audience, many of whom walked out or fell asleep. Presumably those who managed to stay awake understood that the lecture was actually a performance and that he was using words like solid objects, analogous to the “Language School” of Berssenbrugge.

One attendee (and ARTLURKER contributor) artist Richard Haden commented: “It is easy to hear [this] influence in Tuttle’s words as carefully orchestrated, very precise and strategic building blocks by which the exacting order, spacing and choice of words are bracketed with space to sculpt an emotional scene. This approach is much the same as that of John Cage who used space and time with silence as a solid element– to accentuate his tone. Tuttle’s narration became more of a physical sensation of a descriptive performance rather than a discursive linear narrative. Instead of using the traditional chronological, linear approach to describe a story he built a scene with a collection of concrete words to describe his friendship with Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. Whoever did not understand at least these strategies for interpreting Richard Tuttle’s performance certainly missed the point of a wonderful experience.”

The protagonists of Miami’s art community always want Miami to be considered part of the wider art world; however, the prevailing irony – illuminated somewhat unwittingly by many of those in attendance at Sundays lecture – seems to be that Miami doesn’t quite yet appreciate the nuances of that world. The polarity of the phrase pearls to swine is perhaps a little too excessive for either party however, you get the point. Nevertheless, as so many collectors were in attendance on Sunday one aspect of the lecture was potentially extremely useful and that was the value, as Tuttle expressed it, of the relationship between artist and collector; a potent notion that art patrons in Miami, especially now, would do well to take on.


An Mp3 file of Tuttle’s lecture at MAM is available for download here.



  • Richard Haden

    In the recording that is posted to this article: Tuttle talks about the “middle ground”, as he does in other interviews, he is talking about space that is non linear and not confined to “one point perspective”. This is analogous to the Cubist idea of broken perspective that enables the viewer to look at reality and social relations from many directions or perspectives at once-as expanded ontology…

    Another point to consider in Tuttle’s talk is when he states at the beginning of his talk: ‘I am not going to try to hard’. This is his qualification, his way of saying its going to be “Good Enough”. That is such a wonderful and humble attack on commercial art that tries too hard to be over done with polish, gloss and glam as over presented pomp– Like a lot of art that tries so hard to exist as “Retinal” or eye candy (Duchamp’s counter to his dismissal of “Retinal art” being the ready made) art can be as one local curator says so eloquently, “Good enough”. I guess that is another subtlety that does not land on many commercial art venues that seem to litter the Miami scene, these days–those Johnny come latelies who advocate and resuscitate through “Corpus delicti” out dated tradition and form–
    disinterred modernist form from the Mausoleum.

  • Dan Weihnacht

    Richard Tuttle’s spoken presentation, like his drawings on view at MAM, posed an initial challenge to the listener/viewer who may have encountered confounded expectations. Instead of the usual description of the artist’s work with visuals, Richard read a carefully composed tribute to his close friend Herb Vogel. Herb was a postal worker who, with his wife Dorothy, collected small-scale minimal and conceptual art, thereby nurturing many careers. The works now in the MAM collection were from the Vogel collection. Richard’s lovingly expressed description of Herb as a compassionate human being (who saved the lives of many cats), left me with an impression of Richard’s own character: a thoughtful and sensitive soul witnessing a cruel and absurd world.
    The drawings may also frustrate viewers approaching them with preconceptions. They require a suspension of the analyzing, judging, categorizing habits of thought. Circumventing the intellect’s rigid control, they posit a realm of fragile beauty and wonder. Made of a few-to-several strokes/stains on lined notebook paper, there is an element of nostalgia. The applied color interacts with the predictable order of the blue lines, or “bangs against” the structure of ideas (Richard and Herb’s analogy). Sometimes there is an interesting bleed between the watercolor and the single red line. I thought about watercolors of John Cage and the inclusion of chance over control. Taken together with my impression of the artist, the drawings speak of a particular challenge: the conviction to maintain one’s heartfelt values and compassion in defiance of the dominance of rational thought as represented by the skyscrapers visible through the nearby window.

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Richard Tuttle Lecture at MAM