Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in 1993)
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007
Gary Carrion-Murayari, Rudolf Stingel, Ostfildern 2008, p. 111.
Simultaneously minimal in composition and magnificently baroque in its shimmering appearance, Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled encapsulates the achievements of the artist’s most iconic body of work. Executed in 1993, the work is an early example of the artist’s important series of Instruction paintings, which radically question the status of the artist as the producer of his work. With its subtly textured surface and luscious washes of silver spray paint, the seductive surface of the painting creates a captivating optical effect that is the perfect embodiment of Stingel's formal and conceptual explorations, fusing a theoretical approach to the medium with an undeniably sumptuous aesthetic.
Having moved to New York in 1987, Stingel developed his practice in context of the declared death of painting; at a time when artists such as Christopher Wool and Albert Oehlen explored similarly unorthodox approaches to the medium. Much like Wool’s turn to decorative patterns as a subject for his work, Stingel’s important series of Instruction paintings, begun in the same year as his move to New York, undermine the most basic assumptions about painting whilst insisting on the relevance of the medium. Stingel's conceptual approach to painting relies on a unique technique that involves the layering of thickly applied oil paint, tulle netting, and metallic silver paint. Removing the netting after the final layer has been applied, the surface takes on the textured appearance of the tulle; this process is what gives the Instruction paintings their characteristic aesthetic. This idiosyncratic technique would moreover form the basis of Stingel’s later wallpaper and abstract paintings, in which he created patterns by contrasting this subtle texture with areas of flat paint.
Whilst Wool’s appropriated patterns pushed the limits of what painting could considered to be (by turning the very thing it was not supposed to be – decoration – into the subject of his work), Stingel went a step further by bringing into question not the subject of his work, but the author. The conceptual formula for the Instruction paintings took on a radically new meaning with the artist’s decision in 1989 to reveal his signature production process by publishing a step-by-step manual detailing his technique, so that anyone could replicate it. This questioned the very basic assumptions around notions of authorship and originality, and in particular, the relationship between the artist and a uniquely recognisable aesthetic. Stingel’s decision to make his technique publicly available, as well as his attempt to involve the spectator in the production of his celotex works, challenged established preconceptions about art-making, shifting the emphasis from the artist to the production process of the work and indeed to the object itself. Untitled is a particularly good example of this, as the articulated folds in the netting and the unpainted lower edge directly hint at the painting’s physical origins. This makes the work an outstanding example of Stingel’s acclaimed practice, which, to quote Gary Carrion-Murayari, “demonstrates an acute awareness of the aspirations, failures and challenges to Modernist painting, while at the same time expressing a sincere belief in painting itself, focusing on formal characteristics including colour, gesture, composition, and, most importantly, surface” (Gary Carrion-Murayari, Rudolf Stingel, Ostfildern 2008, p. 111).
Intriguingly, Stingel’s Instruction paintings do not simply negate the notion of the author – after all, even a work made by someone other than the artist still looks like a Stingel, proving that the notion of authorship is still highly relevant. Instead, he draws out the complexities of the relationship between the artist, the object, and the viewer, which are far from straightforward. This is where the Baroque appearance of Stingel’s work becomes highly relevant, which is somewhat peculiar considering his predominantly conceptual approach to painting. Although Untitled is the result of a simple set of instructions, it is also an undeniably aesthetic work. If Wool’s gritty black and white paintings reflect the punk-spirit of New York in the 1980s, Stingel’s oeuvre, particularly the later series of wallpaper and figurative paintings, often have a link to the visual language of his native Northern Italy – which makes the seductive silver surface of Untitled more than just the outcome of a conceptual process.
As a visually stunning example from this important series, Untitled merges the artist’s signature technique with an idiosyncratic aesthetic perfectly suited to Stingel’s conceptual agenda; an agenda that has continually questioned both the artist-driven production process of painting and its serious subject matter at a time when these questions have been hotly debated. This somewhat ambiguous position – indebted to postmodern theory yet insisting on a broader outlook on painting as both a practice and process – means that Stingel’s oeuvre is intriguing far beyond its conceptual rigour. This is exactly what makes the present work exceptionally interesting: it is both an early example of Stingel's theoretical approach to painting and his signature production method, as well as a lyrical exposition of the captivating aesthetic that characterises so much of the artist's acclaimed later output.
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