Imaging the In-between: The Serial Art of Richard Tuttle

Since 1964, the American artist Richard Tuttle (b. 1941) has made approximately three hundred disparate series in the mediums of drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and painting. Although Tuttle’s commitment to serial art is unrivaled within the postwar period, his art has yet to be interpreted by scholars in conjunction with the concept of seriality, perhaps because it so deliberately confounds our expectations of the series. Unlike most serial projects in art, Tuttle’s series neither repeat nor progress in any discernible way, making his an artistic practice that provocatively resonates with various philosophical concepts of Gilles Deleuze, whose writings are contemporaneous with Tuttle’s development of his puzzling serial art.

Central to Tuttle’s unconventional seriality are the serial objects themselves. Constructed of common materials such as twigs, cellophane, and wire, these objects seem slapdash and incomplete, a sense of provisionality that is further complicated by the fact that these objects are highly abstract—devoid of overt subject matter and resistant to representation. When viewed in serial succession, these strange objects do not read as consistent or progressive but rather as disjointed and disparate, as if each object in the series signaled something different. What is more, the last object in each series appears to be an arbitrary end, an abrupt break in the series that would have continued, if allowed. Indeed, in viewing Tuttle’s series of art, we find them to be unresolved, incoherent, and amid a process of fluctuation. But to what end this curious seriality? Why might Tuttle continually make abstract series that refuse resemblance and identity and seem to only evince ideas of perpetual difference and fluctuation?

Drawing on Deleuzean concepts such as “difference and repetition” as well as “becoming,” this paper takes seriously Tuttle’s paradoxical reliance on the systematic method of seriality and considers Tuttle’s method with implicationsfor both for art and life. By focusing on two examples of Tuttle’s seriality (an early series and a more recent one), this paper examines how, in its resistance to and coherence and conclusion and its insistence on differentiation and fluctuation, Tuttle’s seriality manifests ambiguity and uncertainty, ideas that, in turn, challenge and upend the traditional conceptions of art as a fixed solution. For Tuttle’s seriality is always in-between beginnings and ends, imaging a process that is as if between a question and its answer, linking the experience of Tuttle’s series to our own meandering processes of thought and ongoing pursuits of knowledge.