Posted by: Bruce Proctor | May 14, 2008

Richard Tuttle’s art, and the strangeness of much real art

Watching a familiar documentary on the art of Richard Tuttle I recorded on DVD. It’s hard to put myself back into my mind-frame when I first saw this work, because my sense of  it is so different now. But then, I felt insulted by it, it was so slight and insignificant, like the artist was simply thumbing his nose at the world. But this documentary had art critics, curators, and collectors testifying to the contrary, and passionately. And the artist himself seemed quiet, at ease, thoughtful, and dedicated. And after all, I did record this, to give it a chance.

As with so much really fine art, Tuttle’s work required from me a certain willingness to hang with it long enough for a shift of consciousness or understanding to happen. I did not expect this shift, really. But the work puzzled and irritated me, and it eventually happened.

Now, after time and familiarity have come into it, I recognize this body of work as quite amazing, with always the sense that he’s flirting with such minimal means and subject that in fact there may not be enough there. But that’s the edge his work walks. You must take it on its own terms, be willing to be the fool–like he is. But once you’ve clicked in to his aesthetic, this is quite marvellous work.

So often, with real art, I must have patience with it. It will seem foreign, strange, ridiculous. And very often–all too often, I’m afraid!–it is finally ridiculous, phony, affectation. But as an experiencer of art, you have to take that chance if your world is to grow. In the case of Sean Scully, Arvo Part, and John Tavener for instance, each time I first felt the strangeness of the work, then that it was kind of stupid, but also that there was a consistency to it that made you wonder. And they seemed to take it seriously. In the case of Scully, Tavener, Part, and Tuttle, at some point in my experience of each of them, a shift happened in me, and I finally “got” what they were doing, and was frankly amazed that I hadn’t “got it” before. I could verify for myself the quality of the experience they were offering. Like all fine art it still has the quality of killing us with exquisiteness, but it gets at us in new and unforeseen (and therefore revolutionary) ways.

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