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Piet Tuytel

Garden of Order

Got back from Venice not too long ago. It was the first time I visited this city and its Biennale. I stayed at the Lido and therefore had the opportunity to approach the city from the water every day. The typical cityscape with the Doge’s palace and the clock tower at San Marco’s basilica slowly appears, giving you the excitement of discovering something new. Being curious about what’s to come is an indispensable part of life.

There were four of us staying there. One of us had taken the lead and did an outstanding job guiding us through the city with its many facets. Next to the hustle and bustle of San Marco square you’ll find the silence of the Jewish quarter; the concentrated Guggenheim collection offsets the Biennale’s expansiveness; the overwhelming view of the city from the Canal Grande is balanced out by the silent waters around the islands of Burano and Torcello; the exuberant Pop Art in the Palazzo Grassi feels a world away from the intimate oriental atmosphere in the Palazzo Bembo; meals vary from a quick slice of pizza on the go or a quiet dinner in restaurant Africa; and the soothing Rietveld pavilion is a stark contrast to the boarded up Grand Hôtel des Baines, where Death in Venice was recorded and Mulish regularly stayed.

What would Piet Tuytel’s work be like if he had been born in Venice instead of Alblasserdam? Would he have looked at Giambattista Tiepolo in the Gallerie dell’Accademia and decided not to build castles in the sky? 

Venice has a history dating back to the Roman Empire, evolving into a larger settlement due to refugee influxes in the 9th century. Alblasserdam was established in the 13th century with the damming of the river Alblas. Venice is in a lagoon, facing the threat of rising waters, which its people combat with the latest methods so as not to lose the city to the sea. Alblasserdam is in the Alblasserwaard, peat pasturelands below sea level which have found protection in ring dikes, ditches and canals, windmills, and drainage areas.

I had the opportunity to view Tuytel’s work again at my leisure at Rob de Vries art gallery. I find it primal, spatial, clear in its use of colour, straightforward, steadfast, continually innovative, worldly, and most of all, enduring. I don’t know if he would have made the same work had he been born in Venice. I feel less of this city’s style and atmosphere in Tuytel’s work; his work is reflected more by the Dutch Rietveld pavilion at the Giardini. Although…

Say we put herman de vries’ work aside and display the Tuytels on the floor and the walls. Or better yet, combine them with two or three Tiepolos. That would be a stunning presentation: a Garden of Order embedded in the Garden of Disorder in Okwui Enwezor’s All the world’s futures. Heaven and earth united.


by Pim Burger,  2015

translation Du – En: Emma van Opstal

Piet Tuytel


“Almost everything in my work is related to the human dimension.” The formal, industrial feel to Piet Tuytel’s work meant that this didn’t strike me at once, but now that he mentions it, I see it’s true: despite their physical absence, people can be sensed everywhere in his work. Tuytel uses industrial objects as vehicles for his pieces. The dimensions are often one to one relative to the human figure—a door frame, a chair or a window. Sometimes the size is related ‘to scale’ to our own proportions, as in the little photo frames that usually surround miniature images of our heads. On the other hand, a chair made by the artist himself is oversized, making the viewer feel small. We feel even more insignificant in the “Dyke Cutting”, which Tuytel created in the Groningen landscape. Compared with this, the most recent ‘sculptures’ seem almost cosy: they are modified central heating radiators. Cosy, though, is not a word Tuytel would use, let alone a sensation he would strive to achieve.

Looking through the retrospective catalogue “∑ │ Ruimte │Piet Tuytel, objecten 1980-2005”, the first thing that strikes you about Tuytel’s work is that he uses non-traditional carriers and materials. The point of departure is not a classical sculptors’ material like stone, bronze or clay, or a canvas on which to paint—the stimulus and the vehicle alike are almost always reality itself. The way he presents himself to the world evokes associations with famous predecessors. At the end of the nineteen-eighties his works were constructed from objets trouvés like chairs, washbasins and ladders. A vague recollection of Duchamp surfaces. In the mid-nineties a large black plane started to appear in Tuytel’s work. It is the back of an enlarged Polaroid—yet again reality is the starting point, but at the same time Malevich’s black square comes to mind. The works incorporating coloured H-beams were created early this century. Here one might see a reference to Donald Judd. But all these associations are misleading. They ignore the all-defining truth that reality itself is Tuytel’s vehicle. In Tuytel’s case there is none of the disillusionment with painting we find in Duchamp, nor is there any of Judd’s disappointment with civil society. There is no political agenda, no revolutionary or iconoclastic impulse. He does not build a new world on burnt-out rubbish dumps as the modernists wanted to do. That is to say, he does build a new world, but he builds it in the existing world—a world he does not reject, but rather accepts and redefines. Tuytel shows us the world from another point of view. He even shows us, quite literally, the other side. Just as the black square is the back of a Polaroid, so the works with numbers Tuytel made in the nineteen-nineties often show the digits in mirror image—which is how they look if you see them from the other side.

The numbers and black planes are applied directly to real objects from our tangible environment; to a frame, a window or a door. The choice of these vehicles has not solely to do with the human dimension. A door or a window allows you to pass from one space into another; from one world into another. And this change of position is characteristic of Tuytel’s work. Even in the stacks of everyday objects like chairs and washbasins he made in the early nineties, he seems to have more in mind than simply raising the issue of functionality. He does much more than show us the other side—although the underside of a washbasin proves to be a magnificent piece of abstract ceramic art—he also ‘builds’ from what is literally a different perspective. Some chair frames turn out not to be chair frames at all. They are simply much too big, or they are made of disconnected components. Tuytel made them himself. Stripped of their seats and executed on a large scale, they reveal him as the sculptor he essentially is. He shows us the specific, formal, three-dimensional construction of a tubular frame like this, and at the same time he presents a different, confusing perspective; in this case a worm’s eye view.

Perspective, a term one would more readily associate with painting than with sculpture, is also an important factor in the recent radiator works. Red paint is sprayed, not painted, on the back (!) of profiled metal sheets. The profile is still visible as ripples in a smooth surface. The sheets are attached to the radiators like a geometric plane. They are reminiscent of a minimalist composition. But equally, the slanting sides remind us of a perspectival space, like a suggestion of a second space above the existing reality. Sometimes Tuytel uses the back of the radiator. Here, it appears, there is already an extra layer. A metal grid has been attached as part of the thermal design. Rather than add a third layer, Tuytel attacks the regular pattern with a power tool, cutting a different pattern at right angles to the existing grid. Tuytel’s intervention seems to have been done with rhythmical regularity, but the lines are not all the same length and the space is not completely filled. Tuytel disorganizes. At the same time he lets the light in. He grants us a glimpse of the inside, just as he previously directed us right into the “Dyke Cutting” in North Groningen’s Reiderwolderpolder.

If you look at Tuytel’s work over the years, it becomes clear that it is always the same phenomena that fascinate him, even when it seems that he has gone in a new direction. To him, the world is not there to be rejected or overthrown as so many modernist formal artists before him did; it exists to be fathomed out, turned inside out or back to front. He uses the rational and analytical means of formal art to relate to everyday reality, and shows us that the physical world is an infinite space with infinite possibilities.
And yet he constrains that world within bounds. He confines himself to one subject so as to explore the possibilities step by step, often for years at a time. The great mystery to me is how he arrives at this limitation. How does Tuytel ‘find’ his radiator? If you ask him, he’ll tell you that it had to be exactly ‘that’ type; he seems to have spent years looking for it. But why exactly that type? Sometimes you can imagine the arguments, as in the case of the door frames and windows that seem to have significance as a metaphor over and above the matter of dimension. But it’s often nowhere near that clear. Why are they almost always industrial objects? And why did he choose that one specific radiator element, and why, in an earlier period, did he study the H-beam in such depth? How rational, in fact, are these choices? Perhaps this is why Tuytel’s work continues to fascinate: whichever way you look at it, you get new insights. It looks crystal clear, but you never get to the bottom of it.

Jan Maarten Voskuil    2009

translation: Lynne Richards