New York

Richard Tuttle

Betty Parsons Gallery and Susan Caldwell Gallery

Eight narrow, vertical strips of 1/4-inch plywood, each unobtrusively nailed more or less in the middle of a wall. Elongated rectangles truncated at varying angles with different side edges painted white. Such a physical description of Richard Tuttle’s new work seems totally inadequate to the occasion. One does not see Tuttle’s pieces as self-contained objects, as hermetic repositories of meaning. In fact, one doesn’t merely “see” Tuttle’s works; one experiences them through one’s body. Visual awareness becomes inextricable from body perception. This is not to imply that one actively projects one’s body into the object in order to comprehend dynamic relationships. No, Tuttle’s pieces are more like markers, indices by which one measures rather than enacts one’s situational space, one’s being in the world.

Because each of the plywood shapes is on a separate wall, one tends to orient oneself frontally to one piece at a time. One is less conscious of possible environmental relationships among the different works in the room than of the dialogue between oneself and a single plywood strip against the wall. One’s body is rendered explicit as the third and necessary term for the perception of a figure in a field. The erect verticality of the plywood, which in all but one piece touches the floor, is equated with one’s body standing upright on a horizontal ground. The dimensions of the plywood are perceived in terms of body proportions—it is waist-high, chest-high, hip-high. The width is narrow relative to one’s body width. Since the shapes read as incomplete rectangles with a triangle sliced off the top, or in two cases the bottom, one sees them as cutoff segments of lines which by extension demarcate the walls. The plywood is a ruler designating size in terms of scale, relative to one’s body.

In emphasizing the interaction between Tuttle’s pieces and one’s body, it is important to note that his figures are not direct metaphors for the body. One is always aware of the actual tangibility of the shapes as other than one’s body. By painting selected edges white, Tuttle underlines the thickness of his pieces. This three-dimensional presence of the shapes is particularly evident in the four pieces where the reflection of light from the white top edge separates the shape from the wall. As in his earlier canvas octagons and wire constructions, Tuttle predicates the physical thereness of ostensibly two-dimensional forms. Yet the new pieces are more of an extension than a continuation of the earlier work, for, in expressly referring to the body’s role in perception, they make seeing contingent on one’s own, as well as the object’s, existence in the world.

Susan Heinemann