Nor am I always sure how such pure concepts manage to hold their own in the artifice of Restaurant, a place where one expects more than a gazpacho made solely of "tomato and a little salt." How does Bertolli get away with that? Of course, a "proper" setting encourages one to pause -- and consider and appreciate the artistry of casual simplicity, but still! At the SFMOMA recently, I found myself mulling over the same puzzle. The Richard Tuttle exhibit is a collection of naive and playfully abstract works as well as a more knowing exploration of the most elemental materials. Line, letter, shape. Wire, wood, color. And because a retrospective prompts the viewer to recognize how designs and shapes continue and recur within the span of a career, what might initially seem like a bunch of kinder-classroom art projects becomes more than that. A whole aesthetic is visible. The monochromatic canvas cloths and constructed wood "paintings" from the 1960s find resonance in Tuttle's sketchbook exercises (early 1970s), and the sketches echo through even to later, more sculptural works. In the floor and wall "assemblages" (late 1980s), what was once flat suddenly becomes tangible and complicated, but ultimately, Tuttle returns his lines, letters and shapes to the flat plane, to a page within an artist's book.
The presentation of simple principles tends to leave meaning wide open, but Tuttle and Bertolli only flirt with abstraction. Tomato? Plywood? Wire shadow? Summer squash? One cannot help but reference a very personal relationship to these familiar materials, and this bit of "personal referencing" is what provokes comments of the sort I heard wandering through the Tuttle show: "Why, I could do this!" or "My son made a picture just like that in his second grade art class." Sure, and your son could smash a whole tomato in a bowl and call it gazpacho, too. Viewing the simple as "art" is often a challenge and why Restaurant or Museum become almost necessary. Bertolli and Tuttle are virtuosos who turn our focus to something quite primary and basic; while not revolutionary, their work causes one to pay attention and realize that being simple is not so simple at all.