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Contemporary Art

The Sublime Realism of Rudolf Stingel

A monumental mountainscape by Rudolf Stingel will go on sale in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 7 March, marking the first time a landscape by the artist has been offered at auction. Ahead of the sale. we examine Stingel's influences, technique and process. 

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RUDOLF STINGEL, UNTITLED , 2009. ESTIMATE: £4,000,000–6,000,000.

Painted in 2009, Rudolf Stingel’s large-scale mountain range wears the guise of cold disinterest and inhumanity. It is an inhospitable landscape and ersatz Caspar David Friedrich without the humaninsing presence of the Rückenfigur (a figure seen from behind). Desolate and forbidding, this work is nonetheless devoid of the traditional painterly signs of heightened emotion that would encourage a reading of the Romantic Sublime as in the nineteenth-century tradition. In place of this there is a paradoxical banality about Stingel’s depiction of one of the most extreme and drama-laden landscape subjects on the planet. This quotidian demeanour is located within the appearance of faithfully rendered signs of wear – the very object-like quality of what has been painted.

This is a painting of a photograph of a photograph. With photorealistic accuracy Stingel has reproduced in paint the granular surface of an old gelatine silver print; its deterioration and silver-mirroring; its negative scratches, dust, creases and the crumpled three-dimensionality of the original image-object. Indeed, this is painting in memoriam. Soft-focus and faded, Stingel’s source image is unmistakably vintage, much-used, badly preserved, and owing to the location photographed, it is unmistakably autobiographical. Indeed, Untitled is an utterly immersive and monumental painting of the Tyrolean Alps – the place of Stingel’s childhood and upbringing. Calling upon the emotive via the distancing effects of process-based painting, Stingel reinvigorates Romanticism for the post-modern and post-photographic age.

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RUDOLF STINGEL, DETAIL OF UNTITLED , 2009. ESTIMATE: £4,000,000–6,000,000.

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 the possibility of insight into the artist’s psyche. 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.

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RUDOLF STINGEL AT PALAZZO GRASSI, 2013. © FRANCESCO CARROZZINI/TRUNK ARCHIVE.

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 influential practice – with its aim to paint like a camera – has been recuperated 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 recovering something of the emotional quality that was filtered out of artistic gesture during the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818 (oil on canvas)
CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH, WANDERER ABOVE THE SEA OF FOG, 1818. KUNSTHALLE HAMBURG.

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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