We went to the Richard Tuttle show at the Drawing Center this past weekend. Holland Cotter has written about it here. Cotter made the exhibition sound challenging and even slightly magical. After seeing the show in person, I find nothing difficult and am left wondering what it is that Holland Cotter sees that I don’t. The dematerialized challenge that Tuttle represented in the past is gone, and what is left seems to be studio produced gallery bound improvisation. It may be that the works ask us to appreciate small choices and small improvisation, but, sadly, I don’t care and remain ho-hum about the entire show.

I loved that Cotter asserted that Tuttle has absorbed into his work multicultural aspects without imitating the cultures they come from. Indeed this is something I want to believe is possible (it’s the reason I dragged myself to SoHo), but when I look to the exhibition I see collector-size works lining the walls, each painted soft and happy. To me the only cultures that have been absorbed and remixed (yet again) are the cultures of the cozy studio and white gallery space.

What saved this visit, however, were the Hindu Tantric drawings presented across the street. You can read about the drawings here and here. They were shown concurrently with the Tuttle exhibition to suggest Tuttle’s good-globalness, but in my opinion they pointed to what his show lacked. These drawings are made as a meditation aid, and what has crept into them is acknowledgement of what I will call the gradation from positive to negative forces. Tuttle’s current work doesn’t have that. His is mainly a positive vision about noticing as pleasure, but today’s Tuttle only notices the nice and inoffensive. The tantra drawings seem at first to be abstractions, but figurative elements abound. Many of these elements (gnashing teeth, neon colors, sharp arrows) refer to parts of our experience that push towards the unpleasurable.

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