New York

Richard Tuttle

Drawing Center

In his great antifoundational, pragmatist essay “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” (1878), C. S. Peirce sought to differentiate clarity from veracity. His point in so doing was to show that a workable comprehension of reality was best arrived at through careful attentiveness rather than via any “royal road to logic,” which would at best occlude real thought and at worst offer up hypotheses in the form of false—if ornamental—truths. For Peirce, being in the world and engaging with its material realities was, in fact, the only way to be. And for a conception of an external object to similarly become meaningful, its demonstrable behavior had to displace abstract properties—essence and ontology be damned. Hence he writes that “metaphysics is a subject much more curious than useful, the knowledge of which, like that of a sunken reef, serves chiefly to enable us to keep clear of it.”

For more than forty years Richard Tuttle has worked along analogous lines, offering art as an uncompromised experience of seeing over and above its translation into discourse or its circumscription in analysis. Adapting materials as he sees fit in a process both aggregative and genially deconstructive, Tuttle’s practice repays attention, whether deep or superficial. In the exhibition “It’s a Room for 3 People,” Tuttle clustered recent work in both two and three dimensions into five “villages” at the Drawing Center, placing a sixth in the Drawing Room annex across the street. Hugging the gallery walls and at times fully becoming them, each loose-knit grouping offered a different model of drawing that implicitly challenged the medium’s claims to discreteness and autonomy. Drawing here was equally cool geometry and conspicuous gesture, illusion and the appreciable shadows that framed “illusions” cast.

Tuttle’s play of frame and wall or wall and floor domesticates even while it estranges. In the Drawing Room, for example, a fluorescent pink ribbon of a makeshift moat (mischievously interspersed with lolling clear-plastic marbles) casts a pale haze on the surrounding walls. The painted faux wallpaper duplicated in the two exhibition spaces, a kind of feverish variant on Sol LeWitt, assumes a similar role. Elsewhere, a glitter-encrusted piece of Styrofoam both interrupted and established the spacing of one sequence of works, while another, “Village III,” was bisected both by an architectural column appropriated so as to become part of the installation and by a freestanding sculpture. The latter, a vertical lattice of stainless steel and rebar with a surface coating of robin’s-egg blue, suggested an anamorphic projection of Carl Andre’s laconic squares, here torqued ninety degrees.

If this work is indeed about hybridity and exchange apart from closed series and unencumbered solipsism, its formal dialectic of process and effect quickly opens onto social signification. A drawing becomes such not because of any inherent properties or by means of any specific materials but through an apprehension of its consequences. This room for three people (Tuttle imagined it as a village of and for the artist, the art historian, and the collector) generates dialogue precisely because of its clarity and Tuttle’s paradoxically modest claims. The best proposition is one that is coherent enough to allow for argument. Peirce put it best: “For an individual, there can be no question that a few clear ideas are worth more than many confused ones.”

Suzanne Hudson