Silencing My Linear Self: Richard Tuttle on the Spiritual in Contemporary Art

Rational thought is overrated. Structured. Ordered. Sequential. Converging to find that one right answer. This was not the process shared by the artist Richard Tuttle during his Logan Lecture at the Denver Art Museum in March. Some would not define it as a lecture or a talk, but instead the ramblings of a non-linear thinker. Tuttle’s thoughts meandered and he struggled to find language to accurately describe his brilliant philosophical and aesthetic concepts. Well into his presentation he said: “the problem with language is to find the words in which we are sharing.”

I took copious notes causing me to focus on the words and phrases that he stammered about expressing, and because I was attuned to his words I was able to capture his final thoughts as they formed into something coherent, such as: “We don’t really know what art is. No one can finely define it.”

The focus of the Spring Logan Lecture Series at Denver Art Museum was on five artists, selected by Modern & Contemporary Curator Gwen Chanzit, whose primary concern was for materiality. The final artist in the series, Nick Cave, speaks on May 16 at 7 p.m. Tuttle famously said before this night: “I make form out of material, but I also make material out of form.”

In Denver, Tuttle spoke about his recent (May-July 2011) exhibition at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea, “What’s the Wind,” which featured seven large-scale sculptures by the artist who lives in New Mexico with his wife, the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. He said: “I’d rather be a servant of art,” and added that while he loves materials, his art is not about materiality. “It’s about exploring the physical world and the dimensional world. I love materials but the dream would be to make something on the spiritual side of things rather than the material side of things.”

What a refreshingly honest admission. Not many contemporary artists would dare speak of things nonmaterial and fewer still who would go so far as to admit they would prefer to make work that is incorporeal.

“If one hopes to shape the world we live in, unless we have access to those [spiritual] ideas, then we cannot hope to do more than work on the surface of where things are now,” Tuttle said.

For Tuttle, sculpture must be satisfying from eight viewing points to provide 360 degrees of satisfaction. Describing his recent works as structured from frames and elements within frames with intentionally altered structures inviting the viewer inside to see the details and experience the dynamic inside of the work and then exterior points from which viewers are invited to stand back and take in the totality of the work. In Tuttle’s words, “the spaces inter-penetrate.” Some even extend metaphorically into the underworld via use of a long acute angle. For Tuttle, matter is then defined by penetrations of abstract space.

He went on to explain that the way the brain and eye work the artist has a lot of freedom.

“When the work comes to a point, at that point should be freedom and not slavery. Most of us would rather be told what to do rather than to face freedom. Why Tuttle makes art is to introduce freedom into the society. A perceived artwork that tells you what to think or how to act is not helpful to society,” Tuttle said.

For Tuttle, both the artist and the viewer are submissive to the art. “It’s a service to do the most with your life that you can do in the world. The job of the artist is to give people something to see not to give them something to look at. You have to know the difference between looking and seeing.”

During the question and answer period he took that one step deeper, explaining that the most important questions an artist can ask of him or her self are the ones that have not yet become thoughts or words. Looking into that one thought or question is scary and frightening which he described as a whiteness. “The same scariness in myself is black,” he added. “It’s this tremendous fear, but art is the best tool to conquer our fears.” Tuttle then went on to explain that in America we have a rivalry between a purely spiritual pursuit and an artistic pursuit. “I have work that is spiritual and what I do to fulfill the spiritual side [of me], and then there is the making side.”

Tuttle said he writes down when he should be making something and emphasized the importance of creative rest because the creating can be difficult and taxing. He then writes down the time for creating. But his process he admitted involves contacting his angel or guardian spirits and submitting to do whatever they want him to do.

“The truth is that art is taking care of me. I’m not in a position to take care of art.”

Write us your thoughts about this post. Play nice.
  1. Leanne, I agree—art, by its essence, is …._____________. So what do you think this is about:

    According to the Aspen Art Museum’s recently mailed annual report: “In the sixth year of the groundbreaking Aspen Art Museum and Aspen Skiing Company partnership, the duo presented unique collaborative projects that celebrate the shared vision of art in unexpected places.” Cough.

    Aspen Skiing Company has fired a singer [Dan Sheridan], banned his song [Big Money], censored a newspaper [Aspen Daily News] and banned a whistleblower under threat of arrest [Lee Mulcahy PhD] from all company property, including leased National Forest.

    According to the Aspen Daily News, the Art Museum banned the whistleblower Mulcahy from all museum functions, including its leased public building [owned by Aspen Citizens]. The museum most recently made news in Germany under the search tags ‘petty tyranny’ and ‘protect artistic’ freedom:
    Man’s ban from future museum site unconstitutional
    Publiziert am 6. April 2012 von Nietzer

    A local man wants a judge to void the Aspen Art Museum’s ban that prevents him from stepping foot on property owned by the institution.
    Lee Mulcahy filed a lawsuit against Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the museum’s director and curator, in Pitkin County Court on Thursday. The lawsuit, which seeks $250, says his ban from the museum’s future location, an empty lot at Hopkins Avenue and Spring Street, is unconstitutional.
    The artist and former ski instructor apparently ran afoul of the museum in November. Detractors of the museum’s relocation into downtown hung “For Sale” signs on two tractor-trailers at the future site. The museum’s manager told police that he had video footage of Mulcahy hanging the signs, according to an officer’s report.
    Mulcahy’s lawsuit against Zuckerman Jacobson contains a letter to The Aspen Times from Aspen resident Richie Cohen in which Cohen admits to hanging the “For Sale” signs. The court filing also mentions Zuckerman Jacobson’s comments to the Aspen Daily News about the vandalism. She said in November that the museum would be installing lights and cameras on the new site to deter similar acts.
    She also referenced the signs on display in New York City subways — “If you see something, say something,” she said at the time, encouraging people to call police or the museum if they witness suspicious activity.
    “To protest this treatment of the community, the plaintiff created an art piece, wrote a letter criticizing [Zuckerman Jacobson] entitled ‘Criminal or Hilarious?’ and … painted ‘Meet the Art Police,’” Mulcahy wrote in the court filing.
    Mulcahy, representing himself, says in the lawsuit that on another occasion, he taped a “citation from the citizens of Aspen” and a piece of art inspired by Occupy Wall Street “onto the museum’s sign and surveillance camera pole.”
    He was later told that he had been banned from the vacant lot.
    Mulcahy, who on Wednesday filed a libel lawsuit against Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan in connection with the plaintiff’s dismissal from the company in January 2011, cites the First Amendment in his suit against Zuckerman Jacobson.
    The amendment “is designed to protect artistic and other expressive activities from petty tyranny,” the lawsuit says.
    Asked for comment about both lawsuits, Mulcahy late Thursday sent an email containing quotes from former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. He did not respond to additional efforts to reach him Friday.
    Because of the museum’s nonprofit status, Mulcahy apparently considers the future site to be public property.
    As such, he and others who similarly disagree with museum officials’ plans “will be chilled and burdened in the exercise of [their] First Amendment rights because of the continued threat of arrest on public property,” the lawsuit says. “The ban is unconstitutionally overboard in that it renders subject to incarceration and other treatment persons who are ‘very verbal’ about the museum….”

    Dieser Beitrag wurde unter Allgemein, Klage abgelegt und mit Aspen Art Museum’s ban, Most ridiculous Lawsuits, Nietzer&Häusler, petty tyranny, protect artistic, punitive damages, rechtsanwalt amerikanisches Recht, US Recht, Wirtschaftskanzlei Heilbronn Franken verschlagwortet. Setze ein Lesezeichen auf den Permalink.

    Dear Aspen Art Museum and Philanthropist Paula Crown, owner of the Little Nelk where this event was heldl, doctoral candidate & student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in… art,

    Since art is by its definition indefinable, let me help your understanding with some quotes from my recent gigs in Berlin:

    “Artists are citizens, artists are social and political subjects. There is no border between art and life, art and society.” -Artur Zmijewski
    [“Artur Żmijewski (born 26 May 1966 in Warsaw) is a Polish visual artist, filmmaker and photographer. During the years of 1990-1995 he studied at Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He is an author of short video movies and photography exhibitions, which were shown all over the world. Since 2006 he s artistic editor of the “Krytyka Polityczna”.
    His solo show If It Happened Only Once It’s As If It Never Happened was at “Kunsthalle Basel” in 2005, the same year in which he represented Poland at the 51st Venice Biennale. He has shown in Documenta 12 (2007), and Manifesta 4 (2002); Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco (2012, 2005); National Gallery of Art Zacheta, Warsaw (2005); Kunstwerke, Berlin (2004); CAC, Vilnius (2004); “Moderna Museet”, Stockholm (1999). Earlier this year he presented Democracies at “Foksal Gallery Foundation”, Warsaw; and is making new work for The Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York as part of their Projects’ Series in September 2009. “Cornerhouse”, Manchester, will also present the first major UK survey of Zmijewski’s work, spanning his practice from 2003 to the present day, from November 2009 – January 2010.”-wikipedia]

    or……..”Forget passivity” by Sarah Handyside in the magazine Exberliner, issue 105:

    “The 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art not only comments on politics-it provides a platform for political action and collective participation. As promised, rabble-rousing video artist Artur Zmijewski and co-curator Joanna Warsza are blurring the line between art and action at this year’s Biennale. They’ve invited Occupy activists to take over the entire first floor of the KW building…. Ambitiously, Zmijewski and Warsza are also launching TheGlobalSquare.org, a decentralized, open-source network that endeavours to unite all social movements into one seamless global collaboration….”

    or the Institute Svizzero di Roma’s P/ACT for Art: Solidarity Action @ the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art:

    “Art can activate forms of dissent and critical thought regarding the global system.”-Teresa Macri
    “If artists should be honoured to be hosted by a museum, there is an idea of culture understood as a form of entertainment.”-Maria ROsa Sossai, Art critic and curator, Rome.

    “Getting beyond individualism means to starting to exist politically, in a form of solidarity capable of opposing the utraliberal dictates that usually govern the art world.”-Laurent Faulon, artist, Rome.

    From one of the exhibits @Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art’s 2012 7th Berlin Biennale:

    “In history, it has been seen that artistic innovation tends to flourish,to a great extent, where economic liberalism is most inventive and uncontrolled. The status of the artist is based on social conditions neoliberalism would like to offer workers as a whole. Besides a near total lack of social guarantees, this hypercompetitive system produces a situation of general submission to the system….”
    “I am forced to orient my production between a luxury product for collectors and an accessory with a social function that is justifiable in terms of public expenditure, the control I have over its political and social role decreases in proportion to the acclaim it is able to gain. Starting with this observation, it seems out of place to expect an explicitly political commitment from the content of my work, without running the risk of seeing it as a mere motive or alibi….” – Laurent Faulon, Artist, Lives and works at the Instituto Svizzero di Roma

    Hope this helps, lee mulcahy phd


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