Tuttle Recall

San Francisco

Left: SF MoMA Curatorial Associate Tara McDowell, SF MoMA Trustee Mimi Haas, Madeleine Grynsztejn, and Richard Tuttle. Right: Jeffrey Frankel, Whitney Trustee Ginny Williams, Adam Weinberg, and Connie Wolf.

Richard Tuttle’s highly anticipated SF MoMA retrospective is, like his work, a deft balance of playfulness, elegant presentation, fine-tuned funkiness, and what one admirer described to me as a “slow burn” aesthetic. And on opening night, the art definitely smoldered, even if the festivities themselves were lukewarm. SF MoMA’s openings haven’t been particularly lively since “the go-go David Ross days,” as Bay Area-based art historian Pamela M. Lee put it. Back then, in the era of the dot-com bubble, the museum’s events pulsed with an—how to put this—irrational exuberance that’s been lacking ever since.

The Wednesday evening turnout, at least, harked back to headier times. In addition to Lee, who admitted she doesn’t get to many San Francisco art events these days, a number of luminaries who probably hadn’t been in this city in years were on hand. The Whitney’s Adam Weinberg and David Kiehl made it out from New York, as did dealer Jack Tilton and his wife, art consultant Connie Tilton. On the collector front there was Craig Robins, in from Miami, and New Yorkers Dorothy and Hebert Vogel. Also cruising the galleries were photographer Todd Eberle, erstwhile Nest magnate Joseph Holtzman, Andy Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, and MoCA LA curator Connie Butler, who contributed to the show’s hefty catalog.

Left: Anthony Meier, Celeste Meier, and Neal Benezra. Right: Richard Tuttle and Joel Wachs.

Apparently, this summer San Francisco is suddenly a stop on the international art-tourism itinerary. That’s a good thing for SF MoMA’s bottom line, as a number of locals have expressed concern that the show will be a tough sell for your typical San Francisco tourists, who can be counted on to line up in droves for Chagall blockbusters but might balk at Tuttle’s idiosyncratic, free-ranging, and challenging work.

But why worry? This was a party, and most in attendance were, to use curator Madeleine Grynsztejn’s term, “Tuttle-ites.” While she and the artist, who was cool but bemusedly beaming, held court in the galleries, the jet-set collectors admired their loans (with 341 works in the show, there was plenty of undisguised enumerating) and less-connected guests mingled in the atrium where a DJ set a mellow tone with lounge grooves and smooth jazz. This being California, the sushi flowed freely.

Local Tuttle-ites were also in the house—among them Kathan Brown, whose Crown Point Press had just opened a concurrent show of new Tuttle prints, as well as dealers Jeffrey Frankel, Rena Bransten, Cheryl Haines, and Anthony Meier—some of whom were spotted scoping for tickets to the sold-out panel discussion “The Art of Richard Tuttle: A Celebration.”

Left: Andrea Rosen and SF MoMA Trustee Norah Stone. Right: Artist Anna Von Mertens, Geoff Kaplan, Pamela Lee, SF MoMA Curatorial Associate Jill Dawsey, and artist Sarah Cain.

At that event, held Thursday evening, the paucity of tickets was explained by the fact that a good quarter of the seats had been reserved for the VIPs who had honored Tuttle at the post-opening dinner at the Four Seasons. Grynsztejn kicked off the love fest by showing a slide of the artist and cooing, “Ain’t he cute?” before shifting gears into a more stately curatorial talk. Then moderator Katy Siegel spoke about Tuttle’s influence on other artists, after which the event became a curious art-world version of This Is Your Life, with testimonials delivered by audience members as the artist listened appreciatively. Susan Harris talked about curating a Tuttle show; Brown fondly noted the artist’s tendency to “go into the ether”; and Berkeley-based poetry publisher and collector Rena Rosenwasser told of how Tuttle quirkily illustrated a book by his wife Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. “I’m so lucky to be able to collect,” MoMA Board of Trustees President Emerita Agnes Gund admitted, before covering the topic of how to live with Tuttle’s work.

Word was that Tuttle himself had devised this presentation format, which both focused on him and skirted the problem of his infamously circular speaking style. He did, however, offer a few pearls of wisdom, not the least of which was “Intentionality is a loaded term.” Loaded or not, you could feel his own intentionality in every detail of the evening, and you sort of had to love it.