Jean-Pierre Criqui, ‘Rudolf Stingel. Captions’, in: Exh. Cat., Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Rudolf Stingel, 2013, p. 13.
Articulated in silvery relief and powdery red pigment, Untitled forms a part of Rudolf Stingel’s celebrated opus of carpet paintings. The present work was executed using the artist’s mechanised yet aleatory process, for which a basic step by step guide was published in the infamous Instructions book of 1989; however, its ornamental composition is informed by the pattern of an archetypal Oriental rug. Ever since the rise of the Serenissima and the influence of foreign embassies in Venice, the Orientialist rug has amassed a rich history across the story of Western art. The most prominent instances of its use begin with its appearance as a backdrop in Benozzo Gozzoli’s Early Renaissance panel Madonna of Humility (1444-50), then in Vermeer’s A Maid Asleep (1656-57) and The Procuress (1656) as intermediary devices separating the viewer and the illusionistic space of the painting, whilst Matisse employed the inherent ornamentation of the carpet as a structural armature in the ingenious The Painter’s Family (1911) (as outlined in: Jean-Pierre Criqui, ‘Rudolf Stingel. Captions’, in: Exh. Cat., Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Rudolf Stingel, 2013, p. 13). Building on the lessons laid down by these canonical art historical masters – artists who have each looked to the Orientalist carpet as formal device for extending the remit of oil on canvas – Stingel pushes the limit even further: not only has he incorporated textile into his painterly method and made carpet the subject of his paintings, he has also invited carpet itself into the painterly realm.
Stingel has long been fascinated by the conceptual and painterly portent of carpet. It first appeared in his oeuvre in the form of a bright orange rug installed on the floor in his show at the Daniel Newburg Gallery, New York, in 1991, and on the wall in the 1993 Venice Biennale as part of the Aperto ’93 exhibit. Since then this conceptual engagement has developed into all-consuming installations in the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Station in 2004 and the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2010, for which he blanketed the entire floor of these locations in highly patterned carpet. In alignment with Stingel’s approach to painting (works are frequently walked upon without hesitation), these installations encouraged the viewer to touch and trample over their surfaces, and thus initiating an element of destructive participation that bears the footprint of time’s passage. Most recently, Stingel’s critically lauded 2013 retrospective at the Palazzo Grassi imparted the very apogee of this intriguing dialogue.
Consuming floor, wall, and ceiling of the palazzo’s grand rooms, an enormous image of a threadbare Persian rug printed on an enormous roll of carpet enveloped the entire gallery space, forming the backdrop against which Stingel’s paintings were installed. The effect was psychologically intense yet simultaneously meditative, the all-consuming faded red of the carpet engendered a womb-like space that simultaneously closed in on and yet dwarfed the viewer, even initiating a regressive state in the number of visitors who chose to sprawl across the floor in quieter areas of the show. Marvellously unsettling and sensorially affecting, this installation took as its point of departure the famous couch of Sigmund Freud’s study: entirely adorned in Orientalist pattern, the carpet-draped chaise longue abutting a similar wall-mounted rug formed a miniature environment for the most famous patients of psychoanalysis. Ubiquitously reproduced in images of Freud’s consulting room in Vienna and remaining faithfully in state at the Freud Museum in Hampstead, this famous piece of furniture today stands as an emblematic shorthand for the father of psychoanalysis and the site of his controversial and groundbreaking observations into the human psyche. Its use by Stingel in the Grassi exhibition served to orchestrate a singular experience: fluidly strung together by the carpet’s lively and enveloping amniotic environment, each silvery painting imparted a glimpse of alternate visual worlds as the exhibition unfolded from room to room, delivering an experience akin to a journey across the unconscious mind.
Stingel’s carpet paintings on the other hand, pointedly divulge a secondary reading. Stripped of the saturated colour and pattern intrinsic to Oriental rugs, these paintings are elegiac ghostlike renditions that invoke the realm of memory and nostalgia. As redolent within the silvery skeins and threadbare grandeur of the present work, Stingel presents Orientalist magnificence that is tatty, worn, and old; stained and scratched, this delicate image bore the brunt of the artist’s aggressive working process. The trace of human presence, both the artist’s own and those captured on the surface of the original rug itself, is marked in the worn-through and over-trodden ghost of a former opulence, a marker that now serves as a fading memorial to Venice’s once decadent Serenissima and the lively provocation of Freud’s theories. As wonderfully compounded by the present work, Stingel’s carpet paintings are phantoms for the memory traces we leave behind.
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