It was in 1989 that Stingel produced his own 'painting’s instructions' (Instructions) – coinciding with his exhibition at Massimo de Carlo – by publishing a step-by-step manual detailing his mechanical technique. Like Albrecht Dürer’s Painter’s Manual, Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings and Andy Warhol’s Do It Yourself paintings before him, Stingel’s Instructions functioned as a document that intended to demystify the artistic process, welcoming reproduction, not simply as an afterthought to the artwork, but as a sequential expansion of the series. Curator Francesco Bonami writes: “Stingel’s feat was to reverse Walter Benjamin’s theory, creating a chance to teach the mechanics of producing the aura of his artworks. He erased the very idea of the copy because every painting, following his instructions, would have come out as a true original” (Francesco Bonami, ‘Paintings of Painting for Paintings; The Kairology and Kronology of Rudolf Stingel’ in: Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Rudolf Stingel, 2007, p. 18). Concretising the latent process of painting and revealing his method of production, the Instruction Paintings toy with notions of authorial legitimacy and originality, bringing into question the mutuality of an artist and their style. But as Bonami highlights, this does not rupture the aura of Stingel’s original, but rather emboldens it. The present work is a sensational fusion of the artist’s inimitability and his invitation to replicate his mechanical method, nodding to the lionised figures of Modernism such as Lucio Fontana and Jackson Pollock, whose painterly processes remain equally as accessible. The tension between conceptual and aesthetic resolve is illustrated in Untitled with a serene sense of depth; silver over an ethereal confluence of maroon and Prussian blue.
Married to Stingel’s self-portraits, the Instruction Paintings form a foundational series of the artist’s oeuvre. Aligned with the documentary nature of his black and white portraiture, Stingel’s aberrant renunciation of his artisthood through the Instructions deepens his investigation into the Modernist canon. Oscillating between photorealism and abstraction – sharing such bipolarity with Gerhard Richter, both artists exploiting photography as a principle for their photorealist works – what emerges in Stingel’s large-scale self-portraits is an investigation into the authority of the artist-producer. But Stingel remains central to his painting practice that targets and destabilises the cornerstones of the genre. Developing his method of layering oil paint, gauze and enamel, the Baroque-style wallpapers and carpets that are emblematic of his later works evolve Stingel’s idiosyncratic process to the point of maximalist, Rococo pattern or Persian carpets. Where Christopher Wool’s harsh, gritty stencils of floral motifs and provocative wordplay evoke the punk-spirit of New York in the 1980s, Stingel’s paintings evince a timeless quality; subjected to process, abstraction and design sublimate one another, becoming pure surface. In this sense, Stingel’s work “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).
Untitled remains a painting at the root of Stingel’s aesthetic developments; a unique, subtle, lustrous mirage of paint, the present work demonstrates the exceptional coupling of process-based production and Stingel’s postmodern, theoretical rigour that continues to evolve in the artist’s practice. Citing both Modernist colour field painters and Conceptualist ideas, Untitled is a sterling example from Stingel’s earliest series that would come to identify him as one of the most important and innovative practitioners working today.
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