Exalted Ephemera

Cordy Ryman, Yellow Spine, 2008, 144 x 3 x 8 inches, mixed media on wood

Just opened at
DCKT Contemporary is a new show by Cordy Ryman, whose work I've followed and enjoyed for a while. Although it seems obvious to consider his work in relation to the legacy of his illustrious parents (Robert Ryman and Merrill Wagner), I feel he has a much more direct affinity with the aesthetic of another member of his parents' generation, Richard Tuttle. In fact seeing Ryman's work has always brought to mind the importance of Tuttle's contribution -- its singularity, and it's eccentricity. What the two artists share is a preference for cruddy materials, offhanded construction, consideration and activation of the whole space, and an interest in the poetry and universal resonances of the most minuscule moments.

Richard Tuttle, 3rd Rope Piece, 1974, 1/2 x 3 x 1/2 inches, cotton & nails
This is actually a Detail, as the whole piece consisted of the piece of rope attached about 3 feet high on a huge expanse of white wall.

This aesthetic ground was boldly articulated in 1975 by Richard Tuttle in his infamous Whitney exhibition that cost Marcia Tucker her curatorial job. It was, and still is, one of the most radical museum shows I've ever seen -- pushing the envelope of ephemerality to the edge of nothingness. I remember Marcia Tucker saying that Tuttle showed up to install this sprawling exhibition with the whole show contained in his shoulder bag. It was a thrilling experience to see the cavernous spaces of the Whitney activated by Tuttle's near-invisible poetic interventions. The show was like a koan, presented by a highly accomplished Zen monk with a wry sense of humor.
In later years, Tuttle has continued to explore a kind of enchantment with the most basic elements of formal relations and materials, making funky little constructions out of plywood and found stuff, minimally manipulated into magically charged configurations. It is mostly with this later work that Cordy Ryman's affinities seem to be evident. Like Tuttle, Cordy is committed to "modest" materials -- stuff that might come out of most artists' trash bin -- and a sort of stream of consciousness compositional method -- essentially improvisational, and in some ways a bit less precious and deliberate than Tuttle.

Cordy Ryman, Stitched Block, 2008, 8 x 7 x 3 inches, acrylic & enamel on wood

Cordy Ryman, V5, 2008, 23 x 11 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches, acrylic, enamel & velcro on wood

Richard Tuttle, New Mexico, New York, D, #9, 1998, 30 1/4 x 21 3/8 inches, acrylic on plywood

Richard Tuttle, Section 1, Extension 0, 2007, 8 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 4 3/8 inches, mixed media

Underlying both Ryman's and Tuttle's approaches we find a highly sensitized awareness of the nuances of formal relations and of the physical properties of materials (Tuttle's grounding in Minimalism, and Ryman's inheritance from his parents) -- and an ability to call our attention to the larger implications inherent in the fundamental relations among the smallest aspects of common things.

Cordy Ryman, Checker, 2008, 48 x 46 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches, acrylic & velcro on wood

Cordy Ryman, V5, 2008, 23 x 11 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches, acrylic, enamel, velcro on wood

Richard Tuttle, Two With Any To, #19, 1999, 11 x 11 x 1 3/4 inches, acrylic on fir plywood

Richard Tuttle, Source of Imagery:V, 1995, 26 x 27 inches, wood & acrylic