I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language is the title of Richard Tuttle’s work exhibited in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern until the 6th April 2015.
I was particularly eager to view this work. In my own practice I use textiles and textile techniques in sculptural pieces and installations. There is a dearth of work using textiles in public view and here was a chance to be wowed .
I do not know where to start with this work.
Perhaps the first place to start is the selection of Richard Tuttle as the artist to fill the challenging space of the turbine hall. He is regularly described as being “known for his small, subtle, intimate works”. Although he has produced larger works including, “ In 2004, …… Splash, his first public art project, a mural 90 by 150 feet with about 140,000 pieces of colored glass and white ceramic tiles. It stretches up the side of a luxury condominium building designed by Walter Chatham for a private, guarded island community in Miami Beach called Aqua.” He seems an unusual choice .
Not necessarily relevant is the source of sponsorship for this installation. The last of the UNILEVER Series in the Turbine Hall was in 2012 with work by Tino Sehgal. HYUNDAI will take over the sponsorship in 2015. No sponsor was listed in the general publicity for the Tuttle work. This does raise several questions around individual sponsorship of the space and the selection of the artist.
If we look at the piece overall and consider first the physicality. As Jonathon Jones describes it;
Two huge wings shaped from wood dominate half the length of the tall, grey Turbine Hall. They are hung with shreds of orange cloth, like giant bits of tissue paper glued to an unfinished balsa model plane. Between the wings dangles a massive construction that reaches from high up nearly down to the ground, covered with red fabric.
This summarises all the problems of the piece. The frame work can be clearly seen and it has some reference, through the tear-drop shaped cross-sections , to the skeleton of the structure of aircraft wings.
The middle vertical hanging section simply seems a mess. For me it has no relation to the horizontal part of the work.
As Alastair Smart wrote;
The fundamental problem, though, is that the work represents no recognisable form, shape or thing. The best abstract sculpture eerily makes the suggestion of something figurative (is it a bird? Is it a plane?) – yet Tuttle’s evokes nothing whatsoever. It simply is what it is. The fabrics come from the Indian state of Gujarat and plug, I’m told, into some sort of discussion about ethical capitalism – but so what?
The colours of the fabrics used in this work are fantastic, vibrant and alive, and they work well in the grey tones of the turbine hall. In an interview for the Financial Times Tuttle said;
The fabrics were sourced through Indian textile company Garden Vareli, and made in the Gujarat city of Surat, “where they have been making textiles for over 3,000 years, and yet at the same time they are all state of the art.”
In the same interview he described the colours as “ based on the passage of the day from dawn , through noon, to dark, which have been fundamental for art ever since the colours red, yellow and blue have been associated with them” The way the colours are used did not, for me at any rate, evoke the passage of the day in any way and somewhere in the process the blue seemed to have entirely disappeared.
Tuttle made much of the production of these fabrics. Again unfortunately the nature of the fabrics was not really visible either from below or from the bridge in the turbine hall that gave a closer view. It seemed wasted effort somehow. The mounting of the fabric on the frame work seemed almost slap dash. It was clear that the fabric had been stapled to the frame. The fabric pulled against the staples, and hung in slight loops between them It was not clear whether the fabric was supposed to be looped or supposed to be flat. The impression I got was that somehow the draping of the fabric was all too much for the artist, the problem was too hard and in the end ‘this will do’.
The unsatisfactory nature of this piece was a great disappointment. Tuttle said in an interview in 2014
We’ve already been working two and a half years. Chris Dercon was director of the Boymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam during the time I made a show there. His strength is visionary, and I understand that my job for the Tate exhibition is (1) to understand his vision, (2) to realize it and (3) to make a Richard Tuttle show—a pretty tall order.
That Tuttle has worked closely with Chris Dercon ( the Director of Tate Modern) over a lengthy period somehow makes the work more disappointing.
Alistair Smart commented that Tuttle feels that,’though textiles have been central to cultural expression for millennia , they’re continually overlooked by art’s establishment’.  If Tuttle’s aim was to ensure a place for textiles then it seems to me to have singularly failed. This work does not take any advantage of the particular properties of textiles except the ability to drape, and even here this has not been fully exploited. Tuttle’s aim has been fully achieved by Ernesto Netto.
I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language is intended to be viewed as part of a retrospective exhibition of Tuttle’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery. This does not alter the fact that the work should read as a stand alone piece.
To summarise , for me, an unsatisfactory work that ,if anything, has harmed rather than enhanced the reputation of fabric as an artistic medium.
 For a full list and descriptions of the Unilever Series http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibitionseries/unilever-series
 http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/in-the-studio-richard-tuttle/ ART IN AMERICA Magazine Sept. 30, 2014 In the Studio: Richard Tuttle by Ross Simonini