New York

Richard Tuttle

Blumhelman Warehouse

The six works that constitute the series entitled “There’s No Reason a Good Man Is Hard To Find,” 1988, could nominally be regarded as assemblages, but that label hardly seems to do them justice. Made of the most disparate materials—from beautiful gestural drawings to crude remnants of rubberized material—they are hybrid creations, at once theatrical and militantly childlike, figural and abstract, eccentric and heroic. One looks like a ritual site, another like a miniaturized stage set, a third like a backward step in evolution, a sort of platypus in search of a continent. Perhaps the dominant crossing—leading to the most bizarre-looking work—is between creature and toy. All of the works demonstrate a marvelous material irony by yoking together incommensurate materials to idiosyncratic, vaguely tragicomic effect. Indeed, the works’ internal discontinuity becomes its overt mocking point. The works are finally unclassifiable: they are neither figural constructions nor mutant abstract growths, neither hothouse jokes nor would-be encyclopedic post-Modernist composites. They are, simply, odd things.

Tuttle has been preoccupied with oddness for a long time, both as an end in itself and as a way of defeating reading—the reading of art as a totalizing structure, and the reading of implications into art. He wants to achieve an effect of unresolvable oddness, one that transcends the possibility of familiar readings, even the most informal ones. Indeed, he wants to outsmart the possibility of any reading, achieving an effect of uninterpretability that piques but never satisfies our curiosity. One might say his works taunt us with meaning, but never give us more than various semblances of it. I think this is made transparently clear in Nica Lift Off and Painting in Italy II, both 1988, the two wall assemblages in the exhibition. Each is made of a number of very small, quasi-intimate drawings. Each drawing becomes a quixotic detail of an open system, full of permanently obscure import. As in the freestanding assemblages, different things are put together to interminably odd effect. Tuttle seems to be spinning a tale, but in fact nothing is clearly told in the end, even though some individual drawings—the architectural ones—are quite readable.

Tuttle’s pursuit of oddness as an end in itself—his creating a hard untranslatable core to his work—shows to perfection, or at least makes vigorously explicit, the schizoid character of high Modern art, from its inception to its current post-Modernist form. We can date the beginning of Modern art from the moment when the artist tried to communicate entirely on his or her own terms—a situation of total control in which there is no common language. This leads to an artistic situation in which less and less is communicated, and finally in which nothing in the work can be regarded as a sign of anything. With the collapse of signification (and readability), the work is discovered to be a composite of perceptual and conceptual odds and ends—artifacts of visuality organized to avoid even the most confidential sense. A state of incommunicado is created. Tuttle’s incorrigible oddness gives that state an exciting new form, making sensuality and the uncanny inseparable.

Donald Kuspit