Richard Tuttle

Richard Tuttle: now’s the time to be-weave

Tate Modern, the Whitechapel Gallery and Bowdoin are showing the textile artist’s works

“Less Has Never Been As Less As This,” The Critic Hilton Kramer Wrote In A Scathing Review Of Richard Tuttle’s First Mid-Career Retrospective At The Whitney Museum Of American Art In 1975

The exhibition of unassuming works—including dyed, irregularly shaped canvases laid on the floor and thin wires pinned to the wall—was so poorly received that it led to the firing of one of the museum’s top curators.

But Tuttle is having the last laugh. The American artist and his traditionally marginalised media are the subject of three simultaneous exhibitions worldwide. A joint exhibition at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and the Whitechapel Gallery focuses on the artist’s use of textiles, while the Bowdoin College Museum of Art hosts the first retrospective of his prints (until 19 October).

The 40m-wide installation at the Turbine Hall—a combination of midnight blue, deep red and bright orange fabrics made in India and hung from the ceiling—is the artist’s largest work to date. It is also the first textile the Turbine Hall has displayed in this way and the first installation since the gallery was temporarily closed in 2013 to accommodate construction on the Tate’s unfinished Herzog & de Meuron-designed expansion.

Like much of Tuttle’s work, the installation “doesn’t refer to anything, look like anything else, and it isn’t about anything else—it is a self-sufficient object that requires you to take it on its own terms,” says Achim Borchardt-Hume, the head of exhibitions at Tate Modern. Though the scale is unprecedented, the artist does not consider the work a departure. “[Exhibiting in] the Turbine Hall is like being given an extremely large lens to look at what you have always been looking at with a smaller [one],” Tuttle says.

The Whitechapel retrospective also plays with scale. The exhibition, which contains works spanning five decades, is not organised chronologically but “intuitively”, based on how the works relate to one another visually, says Magnus af Petersens, the chief curator at the Whitechapel Gallery. “It can be a small work on a large wall or the opposite,” he says.

Some works, such as “The Wire Pieces”, a series that Tuttle began in 1972, comprising a string wire pinned to the wall and traced thinly with graphite, push the boundaries of what a textile can be. “As a colleague said, ‘It is a textile in the way that a monochrome is a grid of just one square,’” af Petersens says. Such works embody what makes Tuttle so divisive, according to the curator. “People are more provoked by small things than bombastic things, because they demand that you look at them.”

• I Don’t Know or the Weave of Textile Language, Tate Modern, London, 14 October-6 April 2015, and Whitechapel Gallery, London, 14 October-14 December

• Richard Tuttle: a Print Retrospective, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, until 19 October

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 261 October 2014