Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Rudolf Stingel
B. 1956
signed and dated 95 on the reverse
oil on canvas
80 by 80 cm. 31 1/2 by 31 1/2 in.
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Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner circa 1998

Catalogue Note

“For Stingel, painting is not just representational – it’s always related to materiality, and physical change within a temporal space. Stingel’s paintings rely on and point to an expanded meaning of time.”

in Exh. Cat., Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Rudolf Stingel, January - October 2007, p. 111

At first glance, Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled seems to speak a well known brand of late gestural abstraction with a decidedly minimalist accent. Thin white drips play off against a vivid yellow background. Yet it is only on closer inspection that the painting reveals it's secrets – and its genius. Created by spraying light films of yellow paint through intricately positioned bands of gauze and cloth, the viewer is fooled into thinking that the white drip painting is a product of Stingel’s hand. Instead, it is the canvas boldly shining through.  In this, Stingel captures the gesture of paint making in reverse, masterfully turning on its head the steep tradition of action painting founded by Jackson Pollock.  A hymn to negative space - the action of the painting is held in the very area untouched by the painter. Rendered with trademark irony, the technique was developed and documented in his 1989 book Instructions, which provided a step-by-step guide to mastering Stingel’s techniques, boldly democratising the art making process while tearing down the myth of artist-as-genius.

This forcefully post-modern sensibility placed Stingel at the vanguard of contemporary painting today. As Reiner Zittl has written, "Stingel may be categorized in the group of artists who passionately pursue painterly effects that for the most part appear almost autonomously on the picture's surface. The texture of the material's surface is proof of its manufacture," (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rudolf Stingel, Chicago 2007, p. 32). By bringing the painterly surface front and center, by emphasising the materiality and almost sculptural quality of paint, Stingel joins arms with Gerhard Richter, follows on from Rauschenberg’s experiments with fabric and steals from Arte Povera’s emphasis on material functionality.

Untitled is an important conceptual bridge between Stingel’s early experiments with carpet and his seminal pattern paintings. While both bodies of work take up the problems of texture, as well as the decorative nature of art, it is in the present work that we, for the first time, see Stingel translating his interest in carpet’s surface texture into a painterly surface. It is in works such as Untitled that we can detect the genesis of Stingel’s enquiry into the picture plane as a material surface.

Untitled exposes the act and substructures of painting itself, forcing the viewer to recognise the inherent constructs of painting. Writing on the occasion of Rudolf Stingel’s 2013 critically acclaimed take over of the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the influential critic Roberta Smith mused, “his art asks what are paintings, who makes them, and how?”(R. Smith, ‘The Threads That Tie a Show Together’, The New York Times, 20 August 2013). Untitled is a pictorial response to this question, a riposte to the two-dimensionality of painting, a jeer at the concept of artist-as-genius. It is an answer, part tongue-in-cheek, part sincere to the status of painting – particularly abstraction – at the end of the millennium.

Contemporary Art Day Auction