On ViewPace Gallery
March 16–April 29, 2023
“Art says you can have any kind of happiness anytime you want it or need it.” Richard Tuttle wrote this in 1992 in Charge to Exist, a small-edition artist book published by the Kunstmuseum Winterthur. Thirty years later, when hearing about the happiness people felt in viewing his current show he responded, “Who would think we need art to make joy!?” Richard Tuttle: 18×24, the exhibition of new, exuberantly colorful wall reliefs on view at Pace Gallery in Chelsea, is an absolute affirmation of the supremacy of joy that can be had in the making and viewing of art despite—or, maybe because of—the divisiveness, anger, fear, and untruths that abound. All Styrofoam, the pieces range from single, monochromatic shapes to forms carved with internal slices; to multi-part compositions of solid color, swaths of color, or delicately colored passages embellished with gesture and line; to a section of white, unadulterated Styrofoam adorned with confined, casually impeccable orchestrations of color. The combined acts of creating and experiencing the multi-hued lexicon of buoyant Styrofoam shapes extending along a horizon line throughout the gallery coalesce into a unified and willful act of unbridled optimism that spills into the world beyond.
For six decades, Richard Tuttle’s art has been determined by the integrity of his interrogations into materials, forms, and ideas that have spoken to their respective times. Starting with the quirky colors and wobbly contours of wood reliefs that, in the mid sixties, oscillated between painting and sculpture, and followed by the quiet minimalism of cloth, paper and wire pieces in the seventies, Tuttle’s works have consistently radiated vulnerability, freedom, and a sense of promise about the healing power of art. Embarking, then, in the eighties on a lifelong yet spontaneous engagement with humble, everyday materials such as plywood, bubble wrap, string, Styrofoam, glue, nails, fabric, and cardboard, Tuttle has continued to maintain a rich exchange between art and life in a celebration of the intersection between the material world and human intuition.
While Styrofoam might have been considered an unconventional material to use for a sculpture in the 1980s, in 2023 it is knowledge of its notorious contribution to the accumulation of hazardous waste and to global warming that is unavoidably part of the DNA of the current works. The colors, shapes, and personalities of individual sculptures and the show as an aesthetic experience delight even as the millions of micro beads of polystyrene are constant reminders of their environmental culpability.
Each of the sculptures, we are told in the press release, started with a drawing on an 18-by-24-inch sheet of paper that includes shapes, lines, gestures, and written words that are invisible to the viewer. Styrofoam sheets, out of which the forms are cut, are laid over the drawings, which are intrinsic to the outcome of the sculptural shapes. Drawing has always been at the heart of Tuttle’s artmaking, and it is fitting for it to be the starting point for the Styrofoam sculptures even though it is concealed. For if Tuttle’s process of making joins with the viewer’s act of experiencing in a collaboration that informs the art itself, then the artist’s drawing, albeit hidden, is inherent—vital, even—to the viewer’s acts of looking and feeling in the presence of the artwork.
The Styrofoam wall reliefs are the spiritual progeny of the unframed wood reliefs from 1964–65 that were radical as paintings/objects on the wall that inserted themselves into real space, as well. Many of the forms are like the abstract pictographs that have shown up regularly throughout Tuttle’s oeuvre. A light blue work that looks like a backwards, windswept comma (18 × 24, #1 [TBC] [ all works 2022–23]); a pink double mound sitting above an inverted, tan, triple-mound shape separated by a thin blue line (18 × 24, #7 [Different Drums For The Same Bugle]); a pink line and a gray line coming together as an “h” with a paper towel at their intersection (18 × 24, #9 [Because You Don’t Really Have The Time]); and a white “v” with a painted gray flourish punctuated with notes of red and green (18 × 24, #11 [Nothing Bugs Like An Old Shadow]) are a sampling of the works distinguished by a directness and childlike quality suggestive of an alphabet. Language makes its way into Richard Tuttle: 18×24 as a connection to a rich personal history of exploration into the correlation between visual and written grammars and as a means for streamlining access to multiple layers of meaning on a deeper, intuitive level. Mining the dualities and interrelatedness between words and images and between art and life, Tuttle remains true to his faith in the power of art to reveal things about life that life cannot. He knows that Richard Tuttle: 18×24 is exactly what people needed now.