Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Specific ambiguities: the blur distilled

No -- I haven't followed Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan into that black hole (I'm tireless about tracking a story, donch'ya know); more like my head's fallen into one. I have a zillion notes to post (among other things, just off the top of my head, a fantastic group show at Western Project that must be shared, applauded -- "Beauty Is Embarrassing"; music and dance notes, too); and so much happened last week -- not without my noticing it either (and how could I not? Persona and La Notte are probably two of my favorite films.) Hey -- even some press notes (more like press astonishment). (Shocking -- people ALL OVER the blogosphere read the metro dailies and art press. Who knew?)

But I'm on deadline, my Flynt Building life is crazed (imagine something between Damages, Kramer v. Kramer, and, uh, Psycho -- with me in the Vera Miles role. Or is it Glenn Close? Maybe Meryl Streep -- as Mrs. Bates); and I'm de-france-drated -- that's when you don't have enough French or France in your system and your brain stops working and your body starts to shut down. (Liver failure without the land of foie-gras -- who knew?) So you'll have to take the posts as I decant them. We have most of the month to catch up, don't we?

Don't worry -- I've left in plenty of rants -- so you'll know it's me (and not the one Norman locked up in the fruit cellar).

30 July 2007

“He probably wasn’t sure what to expect from me… and I had a sense that Gordon Brown … is a man who really wants to get something done. . . . .A person who shares that vision [of ‘freedom and justice around the world’] and understands the call.”

Of course anyone – and not just a mass-murdering moron – would have lost me there. I mean, what is this? Some evangelical revival meeting? I swear I’m not hallucinating this – those were the guy’s words. And of course it just sped downhill from that. I stopped paying close attention at some point through his intro-soliloquy on ideology – as if he could actually articulate an ideology. Christ – he can barely enunciate the word. I had to fly off to the Flynt Building and I was running late. Am I the only one who wakes up with a sense of disbelief at all this – the very fact that this guy is President?


Yeah – I left the preamble in; so sue me. The suit that should be filed is against 1M2 (my formulation – his name and the desecration of his office are obscene to me). Except there should be a new word or words for his crimes. And new words for the kind of collective cowardice that seems to grip the country’s media and its consumerist culture. Which is why I exult in the fleeting oxygenated breezes – ‘points of light’ indeed – wafting through MOCA’s galleries today – and for the last time. A cool refuge from the sunlit ruins outside. (I’m not thinking of Grand Avenue/Bunker Hill as I write this. Actually it was the travertine-clad mausoleum to Eli Broad I just passed heading west on Wilshire Boulevard – right next to the new pavilion outside of which Michael Govan wants to park Jeff Koons’ crane with a hanging train locomotive – linking the Broad and May Co. buildings with the rest of the LACMA campus – that provoked the thought. As opera buddy is always quick to remind me – entertainment isn’t [‘necessarily,’ I qualify] art; and neither, I would add, is mere distraction. But come to think of it, isn’t Grand Avenue developed enough? What is it with Broad’s – and Frank Gehry’s (and I thought he actually had a clue about L.A.) – obsession with Bunker Hill/downtown development? It already has Gehry’s Disney Hall, Isozaki’s MOCA (and the adjacent California Plaza), and the Colburn School – to say nothing of the courts and culture palaces north of First. Downtown neighborhoods are developing/gentrifying at a truly alarming rate – driving up rents, pushing out the marginalized and the same artists Broad buys low to sell/donate/tax-deduct high. Get OVER it – and yourself – Mr. Broad. If you want to ‘save’ downtown, you might want to think about saving the PLANET first.)

Okay – another mini-rant. But actually the refuge is there, too – no, not in the rant – but in that glimpsed procession of shapes, that blur of small movements around them, that slash of light and shadow in one’s peripheral vision, now tinted gray, verdigris, blue – with a hint of gold – as you drive by. (Oh – and then a little visual joke as you pass the 99-Cent store window with its trademark successive stacked product displays.) It’s the pre- or post-cognitive image; the blurred, just past, barely registered, now barely remembered image, event – that now assumes a new import or significance.

It goes to the heart of – not of Tuttle’s art, per se – I’m not entirely sure what that actually is – but of one’s experience of these drawings (I use the word in a very broad sense – as in something that might be drawn in pencil and pigments, but also in three-dimensional materials and their shadows in space), objects, these gestures, incidents and events. For all of its poetry, and even drama, Tuttle’s work resists (calculatedly?) definition as something fixed or emblematic, even in the moment (unless perhaps a kind of emblematic ambiguity). No – there’s always a freshness to the shape (almost always irregular, however consistent – i.e., in arcs or semi-circular sections, rectilinear, trapezoid or rectangular pieces, etc.), the color; a rawness to the join of one section to another – something grasped in the moment, on the fly. I can’t remember who once suggested an analogy to kites – but there’s something to that. Poetry is something his work can scarcely avoid – he’s acknowledged its influence, his immersion in it (and his wife is a poet) – but Tuttle’s are an entirely original kind of visual sonnets (I use the word, ‘sonnet’ very loosely – yes, we need an entirely new word here), with its own structure and metre. There’s a scatter piece here – fairly well-known – of the 26 letters of the alphabet, in which the individual letters appear both extrapolated into something slightly beyond yet simultaneously pared down to their ur-strokes or expressions in rune-like perpendiculars – as if they were spun into something from another language. A ‘sans-serif’ typography a several stars away from Helvetica. (Or maybe this is where the serifs all went.)

And that‘s another thing that goes to the architecture of Tuttle’s three-dimensional work (how do you talk about ‘serifs’ in the 3-dimensions?): it’s completely simple and infinitely – not complex, but something like pi – the cumulative expression of a subtle, elusive, yet necessary and perfect shape, moment, construct.

Perhaps some of the larger and more complicated pieces fall beneath that sublime standard (not that I’ve articulated one), that level of ‘perfection’; I think particularly of some larger pieces with wood and wiring and electrical illumination. Of course I’m exaggerating a bit to make a point. But even at their most specific, Tuttle’s objects remain in a domain of ambiguity, of the ephemeral.

Tuttle’s is an art, not of ‘specific objects’ (pace Judd, et al.), but of specific incident, specific moment (or a series of moments). But it is also an art of aleatoric events, chance. The genius of his best work lies somewhere in that paradox. Much is made of his minimalist influences – or his resistance to them; but it’s nowhere near that simple. There’s something to be said about Agnes Martin’s mentorship; but John Cage’s influence seems more evident here. (And in no sense are artists like Robert Morris ignored.) But I see so much more – arte povera, even Saul Steinberg; and we’re kidding ourselves if we think the legacies of the preceding generation(s) are entirely set aside. You don’t have to be an ‘action painter’ or ‘post-painterly abstractionist’ to cull the ideas or techniques you need from either. It’s all a part of Tuttle’s emblematic ambiguities. He’s absorbed something of the best from each of them for his visual poetry.

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