Lot 3
  • 3

Rudolf Stingel

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Rudolf Stingel
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 2007 on the reverse
  • oil and enamel on canvas
  • 15 by 20 1/2 in. 38 by 52 cm.


Sadie Coles HQ, London
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2007)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


London, Sadie Coles HQ, Rudolf Stingel, October - November 2007


This painting is in excellent condition. Under ultraviolet light there are no apparent restorations. This canvas is not framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Through a harrowing soft focus that substantiates an enigmatic elegy on self-reflection, Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled embodies the exquisite pathos that underlines one of his most important bodies of work.  Following an abrupt reorientation of his creative vision in 2005, Stingel forged a new place in the canon of art history by taking on one of the most philosophically engaging genres of painting: the self-portrait. Painted in 2007, the present work stems from a seminal point in Stingel’s career in which his first major survey opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and in which his recent self-portraits took center stage. Manifesting the most intimate relationship between the artist and his work, Stingel adds another layer to his sustained conceptual exploration of painting as artistic medium. Evidencing the artist’s ability to push the boundaries of his expansive practice, Untitled reifies Stingel’s indisputable status as one of the greatest conceptual painters of his generation.

Moving to New York in 1987 and eschewing the dominant minimalist and neo-expressionist tendencies of the contemporary art scene, Stingel pioneered a process-focused approach to painting through his lustered silver monochromes. In 1989 he released his seminal Instructions: a limited edition art book that detailed the process by which those eponymous works could be replicated. With references as varied as the Italian Baroque, French Rococo and graffiti, Stingel’s subsequent conceptual approach to painting often considered the fusion of pictorial and architectural space. 2005 however marked a seismic shift in Stingel’s career as he boldly incorporated the genre of portraiture into his abstract grammar. At Paula Cooper Gallery he exhibited a single monumental painting of the gallerist which used a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph as its source. This early artist reference crucially articulated Stingel’s line of interest within the series, binding portraiture to his previous painterly investigations. Whilst Mapplethorpe’s photography necessarily took figurative or still life subjects, his uniquely pointed attention to formal balance in composition, light and shadow endowed his works with a decidedly abstract air; subject matter almost willingly dissolves in favor of a visually transcendent experience. This ability to subsume the subject in an exquisite formalism was famously used as an argument in court rulings to justify public exhibitions of Mapplethorpe’s most sexually explicit images which found themselves at the heart of the American ‘culture wars’ in the late 1980s.

Conversely, Stingel works with unsensational subject matter and the symbolic simplicity of the image stands as provocation for a refined examination of the painted surface and its conceptual relationship to photography. Like Mapplethorpe, Stingel utilizes a monochrome palette to provide a formal focus but reduces the contrast between light and dark. Pared down to atmospheric levels of low luminosity the naturalistic depiction of a recorded event melds with the shimmering abstractions that build up the ghostly master image. Delicately constructing an image of his own visage through calculated daubs evinces a soft synthesis between the subject and surface that provides a rational and disconnected lens onto the subject. Stingel’s self-portraits take a series of carefully choreographed vignettes captured by photographers Roland Bolego and Sam Samore as their source. Indulging in the idea of a ‘picture of a picture’ Stingel’s highly staged scene articulates a decidedly postmodern tendency, generating a simulacrum of referentiality and authenticity.  

Behind its conceptual rigor, Untitled is also astutely autobiographical. 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 actualizing one, the artist’s anguish and despondence at this mid-life point act as an underlying score. The inherent sense of isolation and emotional disconnect is reflected in the clear and unexpressive choices of the calculated painterly technique and the resultant aesthetic. Delicate yet highly introspective, the turn to self-portraiture seemed to be a source of self-reflective comfort for the artist.

In the present work the artist stares out of the frame wistfully, typically pensive, but with his identity partially concealed by a pair of sunglasses. The emanating sense of enigma seems to evoke a subdued take on Film Noir.  Whilst in his soft focus clarity Stingel finds technical affiliation with the photo paintings of Gerhard Richter, through the historically rich genre of self-portraiture he looks out to the most captivating artistic products in history. We are presented with the feeling of melancholy that is so intricately linked to the artistic soul. Stingel looks back to Albrecht Dürer whose iconic monochrome engraving Melancholia is often considered to be the artist’s most cryptic self-portrait. The sustained self-fashioning evident in the prolific portraiture of Rembrandt van Rijn is also summoned in the high collared coat and vintage aviator shades which aim to evoke mystery as self-conscious costume pieces. Cold and detached, in a darkened space of isolation, a certain resonance is also felt with the bleak existentialism of Vincent van Gogh.

Perfectly surmised by Gary Carrion-Murayari  in his comments on the 2006 Whitney Biennial: “Stingel only allows his own [artistic labor] into the work in an indexical manner, first in the footprint paintings and most recently in the series of self-portraits based on photographs of the artist. However, Stingel’s use of photography as the basis for these works removes 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) Twice removed from the artist through staged photography and the hands of studio assistants, Stingel achieves the poignant level of detachment from his work which underpins his remarkable approach to painting, encompassing a vision of himself within his abstract repertoire.