Still Swooning: Rudolf Stingel at Palazzo Grassi
Property of an Important European Collector
From the Catalogue:
Looking at Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled, the viewer is confronted by a monochrome canvas, with a decorative brocade pattern and parallel vertical lines painted in black on black. There is a bituminous quality to this vision—its gleam echoes the decorated silk wall hangings of the baroque period, yet the palette is defiantly mute. In addition, the repetitions of the pattern are increasingly distorted towards the right of the picture, emphasising its nature as a work that is created, rather than manufactured. Stingel painted Untitled in 2008, the year after his celebrated retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the picture probes many of the issues that underpinned that exhibition. Untitled is an exploration of the entire nature of painting in the contemporary world, and is loaded with a visual vocabulary that touches upon history and the history of art alike.
Stingel hails from the Alto Adige region in the North of Italy, where large swathes of the population are German-speaking. He was partly educated in Vienna, eventually moving to the United States. The baroque style that was so highly developed in Austria and Italy is evident in the patterns in Untitled. Yet its reincarnation here as a painted monochrome performs several functions. Stingel uses this baroque motif both to underscore and undermine the decorative language of painting. Where in some of his stencilled paintings Stingel has used gold, emphasising the connection to the Baroque, the inscrutable monochrome of Untitled recalls instead the black paintings of Ad Reinhardt. However, the grandeur of the older American painter’s vision is playfully punctured by its association with decoration under Stingel’s guidance. The monochrome traditions of Stingel’s contemporaries, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, are also parodied, be it in the vertical lines recalling the former artist’s slashes, or the notion of the self-creating artwork of the latter’s Achromes. The entire notion of authorship, of the cult of the artist, is challenged by Untitled. Stingel is deliberately colliding the worlds of high and low art, and cunningly avoids letting either have the upper hand. This is confirmed by the disrupted patterns, in particular to the right of the composition, which reaffirm Stingel’s own direct involvement in its creation.
Stingel has long sought to deflate the heightened rhetoric of modern art, not least with his publication and exhibition of Instructions in 1989. These were multilingual, illustrated guides that showed how Stingel made his paintings, inviting others to participate. Stingel has long used unusual devices and materials, such as gauze, stencils and insulation panels, developing strategies for creating works that circumvent the modernist emphasis on the brushstroke. For instance, in some works, he walked on Styrofoam panels wearing boots soaked in chemicals that eroded the surface, making a wry comment on Action Painting. His vast photorealist ‘self-portraits’ were painted by hand, yet based on images taken by someone else, while in his Celotex murals, visitors to his exhibitions have been invited to make their own marks in the surface. Untitled echoes these unconventional approaches to painting in both its inscrutable palette and in the manner of its creation, simultaneously throwing into question the role of the artist—and validating it.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: signed and dated 'Stingel 2007' on the reverse
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Gagosian Gallery, Paris
Phillips, London, 2 July 2014, lot 24
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Since the 1980s, Rudolf Stingel has been interrogating his chosen medium, asking what is a painting, who makes them, and how are they made, in his own paintings, installations, and conceptual projects. Turning notions of authenticity, hierarchy, meaning, and context on their head, Stingel courts audience participation and uses unlikely materials in his work. He is known for covering exhibition spaces with carpeting (most recently the Palazzo Grassi in Venice), and with panels overlaid with malleable silver sheets, and inviting viewers to mark them as they please, likening the result to allover paintings, freed from the confines of the canvas, expected materials, and the hand of the artist himself. Stingel also produces more traditional-seeming oil-on-canvas compositions. Ranging from blurred to photorealistic, they position painting as an unreliable repository of memory, inevitably mediated by time and by the artist’s subjectivity.
Italian, b. 1956, Merano, Italy, based in New York, New York; Merano, Italy