previews

Richard Tuttle, Fountain, 1965, acrylic on plywood, 39 1/8 x 38 3/4".

San Francisco

“The Art of Richard Tuttle”

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
151 Third Street
July 2 - October 16

Curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn

Born in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1941, Richard Tuttle is among the first generation of artists who took as a given the revolutionary transformations of the art object proposed by Minimalism. Extending those earlier concepts in new, unorthodox directions, through improvisational working procedures and nontraditional materials, Tuttle, along with such fellow practitioners as Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, and Bruce Nauman, engendered the loosely defined but enduringly influential “movement” known variously as post-Minimalism (the term coined by Robert Pincus-Witten, writing in these pages in 1973), Eccentric Abstraction (Lucy Lippard’s 1966 moniker), and process art. It isn’t too much of an overstatement to assert that a great deal of the work now being shown in the world’s art hot spots is an academic variant on post-Minimalist practice, perhaps with the salt of identity politics or the gloss of Pop thrown into the mix. “Tuttle’s brilliance lies in his ambition to create a singular object that is as exuberant, as natural, and as real as a living form,” remarks Madeleine Grynsztejn, SF MoMA Elisa S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture. Grynsztejn also argues for the centrality of Tuttle’s art as a singular inspiration to the more open-ended formal experimentation of later artists.

This compendious retrospective—comprising some three hundred sculptures, paintings, assemblages, books, and works on paper—traces Tuttle’s development in the forty years since his first solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in 1965. Of the twenty-four-year-old’s premiere, Lippard wrote in Art International that “one of [Tuttle’s] most impressive qualities is his avoidance of decorative effects; his art is quiet, modestly scaled and delicately colored. . . . The visual experience is a strange one because of the extreme thinness and fragile color of these reliefs as seen from an ‘aerial’ viewpoint; one feels they can’t be tripped over but might be stepped on.” Modesty of scale and delicacy of color have remained constants in Tuttle’s sculptural practice, although he has since experimented with larger objects and a more vibrant palette.

The catalogue for this first full-scale retrospective is itself something of an event: It includes an introductory essay by Grynsztejn; Cornelia Butler on Tuttle’s notions of drawing as well as improvisation and gesture; Richard Shiff on Tuttle’s unique qualities as an abstractionist; Robert Storr on the artist’s critical reception in the United States and Europe; and Katy Siegel on his relationship to the written word and bookmaking. In addition, Tara McDowell, Elizabeth A. T. Smith, Adam D. Weinberg, and Charles Wylie focus on specific aspects of Tuttle’s career, such as his 1971 exhibition in Dallas and his “controversial” 1975 Whitney show—two venues, not coincidentally, to which this retrospective will travel.