Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014
New York, Gagosian Gallery (West 21st Street), Rudolf Stingel, March - April 2014
New York, Gagosian Gallery (West 24th Street), Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Harmony Korine, Robert Rauschenberg, Julian Schnabel, Rudolf Stingel, Franz West, June - July 2014
Born in 1956 in the Alpine town of Merano in Italy, Stingel grew up just a few miles south of the Austrian border; as a young man of 20 he would go on to do his national service there in 1976. Indeed, the present work is not the first or only instance of Stingel’s recourse to his alpine heritage: only three years before Untitled was created, Stingel had chosen his Tyrolean back-story as the subject for a giant self-portrait based on his military identity card. In Untitled (Alpino 1976) Stingel is dressed in uniform and wears a small beard – a privilege afforded to Tyrolean alpine soldiers. The official nature of this image is destabilised and made peculiar however, by the young Stingel who, unusual for an official form of ID, has his eyes closed. Akin to the present work nonetheless, this painting bears the marks of its age and object-ness: the staple holes and regulation ink-stamp operate as mediators between artist as subject and the final painted image. Following years of exploring the remit of painting outside of recognisable imagery or traditional subject matter, the arrival of Stingel’s photorealist paintings marked a watershed moment in his career as an artist.
Comprising immersive installation, employing the use of unlikely media and painterly materials, and inviting the hand of others into the execution of his work, Stingel’s practice has consistently tested the parameters of painting since the mid-1980s. In 1987 Stingel moved to New York and began his career as an artist. He developed a line of inquiry that, aligned with a concurrent backlash against neo-expressionist tendencies in painting, pioneered a process-focused approach to the medium. In 1989 he released his seminal Instructions: a limited edition artist’s book that explained in minute detail the process by which anyone could produce their own Rudolf Stingel artwork, namely the acclaimed series of monochrome ‘Instructions’ paintings – the series of breakthrough works that achieved the artist’s first critical acclaim during the late 1980s. Subsequently, Stingel’s practice developed along a conceptual approach to painting that considered the fusion of pictorial and architectural space using a host of non-traditional materials. In 1991 Stingel installed a bright orange carpet on the floor for his show at the Daniel Newburg Gallery, New York; two years later another orange carpet appeared on the wall at the 1993 Venice Biennale as part of the Aperto ’93 exhibit. Interested in the human traces that these carpets preserved and displayed – marks he considers to be both autonomous and painterly – Stingel pursued this investigation further still with a number of floor-to-ceiling carpet and celotex installations that the general public was invited to touch, walk around in, and leave their mark upon. Then in 2000, he would begin the related series of immaculately white styrofoam paintings imprinted with tread-marks of the artist’s boots. Concerning these pieces, Stingel looked to expand both the activity of painting and its formal limitations: curator Gary Carrion-Murayri has cogently explained that “in shifting some of the burden of artistic labour from himself to the public, Stingel is directly confronting the romantic attitude towards the painterly gesture that was a hallmark of Abstract Expressionism” (Gary Carrion-Murayari, ‘Untitled’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitey Museum of American Art (and travelling), Rudolf Stingel, 2007, p. 111). When he began making a new series of Instruction Paintings circa 2002 – works depicting ornate wallpaper and carpet patterns – Stingel set his espousal of non-individualist painting against a paradoxical score of autobiography. The opulent designs of these works hark back to the Orientalism of the Northern Italian Baroque; the vestigial legacy of which is still palpable in the alpine town of Stingel’s birthplace, Merano. This juxtaposition of automated process with idiosyncratic narrative not only became the focal point of Stingel’s career from this point onwards, it also marked a seismic shift in the painter’s practice.
In 2005 Stingel began creating monumental and hyper-real self-portraits. The incorporation of photorealism into his painterly vocabulary bound verisimilar images to the artist’s previously abstract investigations. Based on a series of carefully choreographed vignettes captured by photographers Roland Bolego and Sam Samore, these works established Stingel’s re-presentation of a ‘picture of a picture’. As in Untitled, the self-portraits enlarge and transmute pre-existing photographs into paint on canvas, and in doing so articulate a decidedly post-modern response to authenticity, referentiality, and semblance. The legacy and life’s work of Gerhard Richter is an unavoidable comparison here. Beginning in the 1960s Richter looked to assert the critical agency of painting in an age of photrographic reproduction by mimicking its aesthetic: the artist’s blurred ‘Photo Paintings’ forged a revolutionary new pathway for painterly abstraction and figuration via an approach that simulated the mechanical, privileged chance, and rejected authorial expression. Indeed, Richter’s paintings successfully function, not as a backlash against the camera, but precisely because of it. In light of this, Stingel’s self-portraits, his portrayals of Baroque religious sculpture, and the mountain scenes are undeniably indebted to Richter’s indomitable legacy. The difference, however, is the way in which these paintings square up to emotion and individualism.
Within their hard-edged conceptualism and Richter-esque rigor there lies is a deeply autobiographical impetus. Stingel’s first large self-portrait was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 2006 around the time of his fiftieth birthday. Whilst the series of works that followed only infer a narrative rather than actualising one, the artist’s anguish and despondence at this mid-life point act as an underlying subtext. This inherent sense of isolation and emotional disconnect is reflected in the clear and impassive aesthetic of these paintings. Devoid of gestural expressivity yet highly introspective, the turn to self-portraiture – whether in the guise of self-images, Baroque religious sculpture, or sublime vistas of his native mountainous Tyrol – underscores the deeply contemplative and even existential bent of Stingel’s art.
The mountains thus seem to circle back to a distinctly Romantic evocation of feeling. However, rather than instilling awe in the face of sublime nature, the muted greyscale aesthetic, its faithfully transcribed markers of age and deterioration, and its evocation of the past, impart a dynamic of psychical melancholia. In Untitled there is an evocation of something lost, an irrecoverable past that is couched in the artist’s own biographical recollections. Stingel’s reference to himself is nonetheless interrupted by intermediary authorship; by using and painting photographs taken by someone else, these works remove, to quote Carrion-Murayari, “the possibility of insight into the artist’s psyche” (Gary Carrion-Murayari, 'Untitled, in: Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Rudolf Stingel, 2008, p. 112). Indeed, twice removed from the artist through staged photography and the hands of studio assistants, Stingel achieves a poignant level of detachment from his work. This is the means by which Stingel has been able to insert a vision of himself within his paradoxical post-authorial painterly trajectory.
Depicting a crumpled vintage photograph that has been re-photographed and enlarged, its inconsistencies, faded tonalities, and soft-focus greyscale faithfully transcribed, this work bespeaks a deep nostalgia that enunciates the passing of time. In Untitled we are presented with a post-Richter recuperation of the Romantic in the guise of automated painting. The emotional void and clinical focus of Richter’s work – with its aim to paint like a camera – has been recovered and overturned by Stingel in the form of a deeply emotive expression of collective melancholia: a psychical living death and attachment to what has been lost and what no longer is. Stingel’s is an artform increasingly concerned with salvaging something of the emotional quality that was filtered out of artistic gesture during the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Having spent a career exploring the limits of painting via base materials and traditionally non-art mediums, Stingel’s photorealistic works present an eminent and natural extension of this established and acclaimed career arc. Within the memory traces marked upon his carpets, styrofoam paintings, celotex installations, and more recently in the guise of the painted-photographic, Stingel invokes human presence through its very absence and ruin. As resolutely qualified by Untitled, the work of Rudolf Stingel is concerned with painting as an index for the passage of time.
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