Richard Tuttle: What Is the Object? at the Bard Center Gallery (18 W. 86th St.) is an exhibition of the artist’s explorations of the meaning of objects through material he has collected over the past five decades. Per the curatorial description, “In this exhibition, Tuttle’s objects are displayed with index cards that document his encounters with them, exhibition furniture that he made on which the objects and cards rest, and ribbons of text that he wrote, which hang from the gallery’s walls.” A catalog designed by Belgian designer Luc Derycke (edited by Peter N. Miller, with poems by Tuttle and text by Renee Gladman) is itself an object that moves the work out of the gallery space and into a tactile and portable experience.
I recently asked Derycke, known for his art world books for Tuttle and others, to reflect on this volume.
How did you come to design the Richard Tuttle catalog?
Richard and I had been working on a number of books before and he chose me to be his companion for this one. Working on his Stories I-XX book we also had a prolonged and intense correspondence, which because of COVID had a Decamerone vibe—we were both isolated and had this queer time on our hands and enjoyed sharing stories.
Had you been an admirer of his work prior to this?
I admire a lot of art, and his work is admirable in many ways. When we first met at the Drawing Center in New York to work on Drawing Paper 51: Richard Tuttle Manifesto, I had not singled out his work for specific admiration but that changed quickly. I am in awe of the incredible level of intensity and focus he brings to a creative process. I remember being exhausted and exhilarated by these first meetings.
It is one of the few recent catalogs that intrigued me as much as the work itself. Was there an attempt to complement Tuttle or make your own interpretation?
It has a story of sorts. Often, at the start of a design process, Richard will show a paper object, or some constellation of paper objects. For this book it was a folder with sheets sticking out, like gathered in a hurry and not arranged properly. This object one can consider as a formula with which to solve an equation, or a “logic,” or a key—whatever. This object challenged (1) shape and (2) the relation of a cover to its contents. This was the start of a process—in which Peter Miller, dean of the Bard Institute, participated—to bring the challenges to a model that could be printed in 2,000 copies. The result is my interpretation, sure, but technicalities and budget were very determining.
The size and shape of the book is distinct and unique. Were there any issues that limited what you were able to accomplish?
On the contrary. We know books to have four sides. Adding one, making it a pentagon, opens a myriad of possibilities.
You’ve designed many art catalogs. Do you have a “philosophy” of what such a book should be, and what purpose it should perform?
I do. The philosophy is clear to me but hard to explain in ways other than a design process. An art catalog is—to quote Robert Smithson—a “logical picture,” a Non-Site, the transposition of a list of objects, which would be a Site. What is the Site? What is the logic? What does the list want? The purpose a catalogue should perform is the discovery of the complexity of both validity and ownership of art and art discourse.
Where does this work fit into your critical mass of work? In other words, are you pleased with its innovations?
Definitely. A lot of innovation was in the context, thanks to the Bard Institute and Richard Tuttle. Glad I could respond in kind.
Can you tell me what it felt like the first time you saw a finished copy?
To be honest: sad, which took me a few weeks to overcome. A journey can be so much better than its destiny. But then one forgets, and starts to accept the object. In the end, the object always wins.