On Randomness and Responsibility

I just got back from a visit to the new conservation department digs at MoMA [one word: AWESOME], and they'd just taken down the Richard Tuttle Letters sculpture today, to get it ready for the SFMOMA retrospective, and it was lying around on the table.

The conservator talked about interviewing Tuttle to see what his intentions were for the weak or broken solders, the accumulating fingerprints on the galvanized steel, even which side was the front and which was the back. Tuttle actually preferred the imperfections, the minor breaks, the accumulated history of wear and randomness, everything but the stickers some German museum stuck on what they thought was the back of the pieces. In another nod to non-prescriptiveness, Tuttle says there is no front or back.

This intentional abrogation seemed suitably interesting, admirable, even, and then I read Clay Risen's review of Peter Eisenman's Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin in The New Republic. Risen decries the inevitable but apparently unanticipated transformation of the grim, abstracted Holocaust memorial, now full of children, into "the world's greatest playground." He cites Eisenman's casual embrace of picnickers, skateboarders, and even defacement. "Maybe it would add to it," he said. For some reason I can't quite pin down, Eisenman's "maybe" bugs.

Can advocating chance ever be be cleanly differentiated from abrogating or denying responsibility for the life of a work? Risen also slams the open-ended whateverness of abstraction, especially for memorials. He calls Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial a rare exception, an abstract memorial that succeeds by not dictating a message; it's telling that he can't come up with any others.

There's little downside, little impact on our culture, ultimately, if a Richard Tuttle sculpture is repaired or displayed "wrong." But what is the impact of a Holocaust memorial in Germany being "misread"? Or turned into a skatepark? Are there situations when embracing randomness is wrong, or when it should be questioned?

Stone Cold [tnr.com, sub req]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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