PRINT February 2002


IT TAKES A SPECIAL TURN OF MIND to look at the sky and see goats, celestial twins, and bearskin-clad hunters—an elaborating mind, well upholstered with primary images. In short, that of a Greek shepherd whose ears ring with the Iliad and the Odyssey. A somewhat plainer imagination—say that of a Shaker lying in the grass on a summer night—could come up with the Big Dipper and, should the fancy strike, populate the heavens with curved scythes, straight-backed chairs, and oval button boxes. Then, there are those paradigm-makers and -breakers who search the void for dwarf stars and black holes, of which the only evidence is the flecks of light that elegant calculations transform into mathematical wonders.

Such correlations depend on a highly developed knack for shape-making and a gift for patterning, allied to a blithe indifference to the obvious ways the same details might be mapped by more practical or prosaic sensibilities. Thus, at the origins of and in the indeterminate space between astrology (the truth of myth) and astronomy (the truth of science) lies whimsy, the great revealer of possibilities for which no higher necessity yet exists.

Generally speaking, professional curators are either astrologers or astronomers. Their mission is to perfect the templates they have inherited. By contrast, Richard Tuttle belongs to the tribe of playful rearrangers whose skill is free association and whose only responsibility is to please themselves. Texture's infinitely variable relation to surface is the common denominator of the otherwise disparate paintings and objects that the artist has laid out here. Tuttle's special preoccupation is with those textures or analogous formal devices that suggest or actually introduce an element of relief into a work, rendering the dynamics of figure and ground ambiguous—or in some cases reversing them or making them explicitly contradictory. Thus Tuttle brings to art other than his own a keen appreciation of visual anomalies and improbable correspondences while sparing us the tedium of conclusive arguments as to why these eccentricities must be approached as revelation. Fautrier to Martin, Crivelli to Brancusi, Chryssa to Yuskavage—some new constellations.