Richard Tuttle

Städtisches Museum

The fact that Richard Tuttle’s quiet, poetic works prevailed against the Stádtische Museum’s ponderous, misshapen central exhibition hall speaks not only for his sensitivity in questions of exhibition design but also for the way he incorporates this sensitivity into each of his works. In the five-room exhibition, select works from 1965 to 1985 provided a discourse on formal, perceptual, and intuitive processes. Given its concentrated selectivity, “retrospective” would be an inappropriate term to apply to this show. Taking the central exhibition hall as our gauge, it would appear that the show’s intent was to produce a poetic symphony from the visual polarity of the early and the current work.

Analyses of Tuttle’s work founder on a lack of appropriate categories. The difficulty begins with finding accurate terms to characterize the forms he explores, and by no means ends with the effort to place him stylistically The radically reduced materials in his wall-mounted pieces from the late ’60s and early ’70s—dyed canvas; spare, thinly painted wood slats—and the playful combinations of wire, wood, and found materials in his brightly colored collage sculptures from the early ’80s are embedded within a broad spectrum of works that can be described only approximately as drawings.

The group of wall drawings entitled “Interlude: from 1974, is particularly important to an understanding of Tuttle’s work as a whole, and not only because of its position as the chronological midpoint of his career. Initial appreciation of Tuttle’s work was centered on its soothing dialogue between pure poetry and a reduced gestalt—a reduction of both content and formal complexity. By contrast, viewers of his latest works are left vaguely anxious, an effect created by the obvious tension between the quiet symmetry of the color/material and the antiorder of the formal interplay of signlike, planar, and spatial components. From this perspective, the ”Interlude" drawings embody the polarity that was implicit in Tuttle’s work from the beginning. His dialogue with form has incorporated at each stage of its development its potential otherness: line and contour imply plane, plane implies space, calculated movements imply arbitrary acts and intuitive gestures their recantation. Materiality is transcended—his works do not come to completion in the material realm but in the mind of the viewer.

Tuttle’s handling of the material ground of each drawing is notable not only in regard to the objectlike nature of the framing—whether approximating the traditional character of a frame (the "Helsinki works’: 1982) or moving beyond this in the direction of relief—but in the fluid transitions between plane and space, beginning with the placement of the sheet of paper as physical medium. A similar fluidity characterizes the work’s balance between its elementary vocabulary of geometric signs and its poetic suggestivity. Even in his earliest works there are obvious suggestions of a visionary landscape in the choice and form of his color.

This exhibition covered a broad spectrum of work chronologically, allowing the viewer to experience Tuttle’s oeuvre as a poetic-philosophical “interlude” performed with the instruments of art. His work is almost palpably soaked in the intuitive knowledge of the coexistence of the One within the Other. Over the past 20 years, the appearance of his work has evolved not from a rejection of his starting point but out of a shift in the accent on what has been from the beginning his intuitive concern: a shift from the dominance of the one, from a strict reductionism, to the other, to free intuition—a shift from calculation to an indefinable poetry.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.