Richard Tuttle’s “What’s the Wind” at Pace Gallery

by Heidi Howard

System 1, Cheap Face (2010) by Richard Tuttle

Richard Tuttle’s exhibit “What’s the Wind” at Pace Gallery features six towering (measuring more than seven feet tall and seven feet wide) multi-media sculptures titled “Systems 1- 6.” Through Tuttle’s refined organization of easily found art materials (feathers, craft paper, felt, plywood, armature wire) on the four posts of each sculpture, every element takes on a particular role in the “System.” This concept of each material having a purpose goes back to Tuttle’s earliest emphatically essential works. At this large-scale and with an abundance of objects, Tuttle offers a range of a new possibilities for 3-dimensional art. As these densely personal, allusive constructions fill the space, almost forming an installation, they bring the viewer into an intense dialog about the fragility of our daily systems.

Tuttle tests language in myriad ways as he suggests the English alphabet, art, history and common cultural elements like birds and flags. Opposite of the direction in which one would read a sentence the first sculpture titled “System 4, Hummingbird” stands at the viewer’s right side as one enters the gallery. The base is comprised of three S’s which are constructed from wood with the top and bottom curves missing—perhaps to make them stronger supports. They intersect, sandwiched, between a square and a circle. Looking down to knee-level on the square, there is a sort of amusement park. Part of this amusement-park-like structure are targets that hang loosely linking to yellow L-shaped pieces of wood that stick out of four delicate wood sticks at aligned intervals. When light pink textured frosting replaces white against red and blue circles in the targets they become feminine, human, and less American. This color play brings ideas in painting into the 3-dimensional plane like the work of Sarah Sze. However unlike Sze’s work Tuttle’s sculptures are not fabrications leading into an imagined world; rather, using transparently connected bricolage, they consistently remind us of our material connection to the ground, the façade, and the temporal qualities in our lives.

Installation View of "What's the Wind" by Richard Tuttle

Across from “System 4” is “System 1, Cheap Face” – the most sparce of the six sculptures. Four metal posts support a lone birdlike shape suspended over an unpainted wood square. Five long half cylinders with coffee stirrers on the bottom of their crescents are covered with yellow feathers and silver fox fur. The glue that attaches these elements is very visible so that the construction of the sculpture is transparent in a provokingly playful way. Paradoxically, but also completely correlating with Tuttle’s style, the feathers and the fox fur remain refined, pristine and magical. The silvery fur tantalizes, simultaneously dark and shiny, evoking shamans, mythology and medicine men. The bright yellow feathers conjure birds, flight, the sun, and Icarus.

Behind “System 1,” is “System Five, Glass Suit.” Here, rather than hanging from, a vase covered in ripped pieces of brown Canson construction paper, sits atop metals wires suspended from four wood posts. This elevated reminder of a fleeting ancient remnant sits above a crown, one of four objects on the square of white painted wood that is the base of this sculpture. The crown presented on a pillow wrapped in ripped pieces of red paper is a loose circle of corrugated gold paper. Like many symbols of monarchy or power, it is glimmeringly present, but would clearly unravel if pulled.

The base of this sculpture suggests machine. It is in the form a coffee table with an open-ended shelf. On its face next to the crown a stack of red, circular wood pieces, in the shape of large toothed saw blades, decreasing in size culminate in a four-toothed star, the top, center piece. This stack is a target with the edges of its rings corrugated like the cogs of a motor. On the shelf below this stack is another pile of similar red wood jagged edged circles. There is no material connection between these wood pieces, but the strongest of formal connections in their relationship to one another and to our visual reading of a mechanism.

In the back room is the final sculpture “System 3, Measurement.” Metal strings coming from four wood posts, in this case painted white, hold up a cone of piled balloon-like shapes, some full, some crumpled covered in construction paper in navy, green, beige, rose red, peach and the color of masking tape. Below halves of balloon covered in silver hang from raw wood crossbars forming sort of bowls, pods. Slightly elevated from the ground on a wood square painted black rests a sort of train of cars. Two rectangles of wood with their insides colored with bright pink marks form the sides of red painted bottom piece of wood the shape of a very large coffee stirrer. The cars almost form a circle. The circle would reflect the bottom of a cone—if the balloons were to extend downward. This sculpture appropriately has its own room in the gallery as the components form “the cone,” and this familiar geometric form lends “System 3” a graceful monumentality.

The “Systems” relate to the philosophical problem, which always arises in Tuttle’s work, that we experience everything through our own individualized, limited or infinitely mutable system, governed partially by how our brain functions and partially by our experience. Leaving the gallery one cannot miss the four-foot unicorn horn made out of duct tape that is atop “System 4” the first sculpture when you enter the gallery. Nearly invisible when standing under the sculpture this surprise adds a completely new allegorical and spatial dimension to the show.  It is one of many reminders to take a second, third and fourth look at these sculptures.

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