Professor Julia Scher
Comparison of 2 pieces of art – Group 1
Comparing Richard Tuttle’s The Last Light Work”
to Jessica Stockholder’s Untitled, (1993)
I am keenly interested in two artists: Richard Tuttle and Jessica Stockholder. For the purposes of this paper, I chose to compare a work by each artist that was created in the early 90s. Specifically, I am interested in how they address the issue of “frame”. Neither artist uses a frame in these pieces, but the idea is present.
Richard Tuttle’s piece, The Last Light Work (Grynsztejn 308) is actually mounted on the wall, which is not true for all his work. It is also hung at viewing level, which he also plays with in other pieces. In fact the main body of this piece is a rectangular piece of plywood attached to the wall. This 20 x 30 inch piece of red painted wood even has narrow strips of bare plywood along the top and bottom of the rectangular base, as well as another strip attached vertically about 2 inches in along the left border – all echoing the stance of a framed piece.
From there, the nod to tradition ends. On the front of the plywood base is attached another red painted rectangle made of cardboard shaped to form regular sections, then sliced in strips. This other red rectangle is mounted askew – so that its corners protrude to either side of the formally hung base. Furthermore, a wire from the twinkling Christmas lights, loosely draped beneath the top strip of bare plywood, extends down to a socket – into which there are two bright narrow 5 inch white lights mounted side by side. They are parallel, but one is distinctly higher than the other. It feels like Tuttle is echoing the traditional by placing them both upright, and then upsetting it again by their uneven horizontal relationship.
Jessica Stockholder’s unnamed piece, created in 1993 (Carruthers 49), is composed of a simple square white plastic sink basin mounted vertically on aluminum tubing. It’s as if she were displaying a painting – very upright. In fact, she does treat the piece as a painting – adding a yellow square of color onto the left of the sink. The yellow might even be a play on the idea of light that is emitted by a small light fixture sitting on the bottom edge of the sink. The yellow paint adjoins a beautiful fleshy pink that runs along the left rim of the sink, then onto the aluminum pole and outward onto an upright wooden board and a toolbox mounted sideways onto the pole. At the base of the piece is a coil of orange extension cord, mirroring the color of the toolbox. This cord connects to a black wire which rises up to the toolbox where the color black is painted across the left side of the toolbox, meeting the fleshy pink, but leaving the orange to show on the rough edges above and below. To offset the soft pink area, the front aluminum pole is painted a distinct basic blue, echoed in the wooden board behind it.
Both Tuttle and Stockholder use every day materials in their work. Tuttle’s materials could have all come from a hardware store. In this piece, Stockholder’s could have as well. Therefore, “the white cube” of the gallery, the exhibition space, also defines the work as art and “frames” it in the gallery setting by separating the works from structures for which that these materials might otherwise be used.
Jessica Stockholder (qtd. in Carruthers, et al) says,” My work assumes a white cube…” (11), while Madeleine Grynsztejn writes about Tuttle, “ the architectural container…provide(s) a “frame” and pivotal counterpoint to the works themselves.” (43)
However, each artist considers his or her idea of frame from a unique vantage point. In his piece, Tuttle uses geometry to violate the boundaries of the frame. Stockholder uses color to create pieces of pictorial formality that stand complete as if framed.
Tuttle rose to fame in the 1970s when Grynsztejn reports that many artists began to question the use of the frame (43). Among Tuttle’s first pieces were large shaped pieces of cloth that he pinned to the wall? Over the years, he has hung works near the floor, placed them apart from the wall, created them on the wall, and even re-introduced the frame, and then gone on to play with where and how the frame interacts with other parts of the piece. What Tuttle is doing in his work is questioning the dominance of how the audience sees art because of Renaissance easel painting. Grynsztejn describes it thus:
So successful was this vehicle (the Renaissance easel painting) as a form of making the world understandable…that Western culture has adapted the flat picture plane as a visual tool for all manner of…intellectual cognition, from the view out the car window …to the way we structure our inner consciousness…It is Tuttle’s ambition to create works that confound inherited ideas about what constitutes a picture plane… and to undermine its primacy (59).
In his piece, The Last Light Work, I sense that Tuttle does suggest a frame by his use of thin border strips of plywood, but the “painting” (cardboard rectangle) ignores its parameters. The lights, which in the earlier part of the last century would have been mounted to shine on the painting, are in the piece itself as well as wandering far afield, to add their own artistic statement below the attached plywood and cardboard. Tuttle comes close to the traditional picture plane, but I think he does so only in order to play with expectations and then ignore them.
Stockholder comes from a different stance. She began as a painter and continues to consider her work as paintings, which also happen to be sculptures. She says “…the gesture of placing an object in a room is not so far removed from making a gesture with a brush” (13). According to Elspeth Carruthers:
Stockholder’s work-form is strictly speaking- the picture…Her works, which can include the wall, the floor, free space, can be described at painting in the third dimension. Stockholder’s retains and profits from pictorial concepts of the abstract Modern… and is a plea for composition, rhythm, beauty…(26-27).
The lack of a formal frame in Stockholder’s work does not imply that she is refuting the concept of frame. I sense she is actually asking the viewer to find the frame in different materials: the side of the sink, and/or the edge of the aluminum supports. Once the viewer adjusts to seeing the sculpture as a painting, the colors and shapes are beautifully composed. By making the work three dimensional, it also makes me, the viewer, aware of my three dimensionality, as well.
Stockholder also uses light as a color. Like Tuttle, she includes the fixture in the piece. However, again, I think she uses the fixture for one purpose, namely, color: of the fixture, the light it emits, and the concept of the light (as symbolized by the yellow square). She includes the use of light fixture as part of the formal abstract “painting” she creates.
Richard Tuttle and Jessica Stockholder, both in the forefront of the post- Minimalist art scene in the 1990’s, created works that occasionally had similar aspects. In the 2 pieces I chose to compare for this paper, both are working with the concept of frame in untraditional ways. The appearances of the pieces – use of common materials, inclusion of light fixtures, lack of traditional frame – might suggest that they shared ideas about framing. Other than the fact that both relied on the space of the gallery to set their work apart as art, I have concluded that each artist approached their work from a personal orientation, which informed their decisions about the idea of frame: Tuttle was primarily interested in challenging the viewers concepts and expectations of the flat picture plane; Stockholder was blurring boundaries between surface and structure, so that the color defined her work, including the concept of frame.
Carruthers, Elspeth, et al, Jessica Stockholder: Kissing the Wall, Houston: Blaffer Gallery, 2004, Print.
Leinz, Gottleib, et al, Jessica Stockholder, Dusseldorf :Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, 2002. Print.
Grynsztejn, Madeleine, The Art of Richard Tuttle, San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 2005.Print.