The collection of surface marks in Untitled are sourced from Stingel’s Celotex series, specifically the participatory installations he famously debuted in his 2007 mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Whitney Museum. The installation comprised of expansive aluminum-coated Celotex boards that lined the gallery walls. Allowed to depart radically from traditional museum protocol, viewers were invited to imprint, scribble, and incise any kind of mark with any available material, imparting an aspect of performativity to Stingel's installation that aligns him within a greater tradition of relational aesthetics. Malleable and easily punctured, the surface of the once-pristine silver foil soon erupted into a riot of graffiti and etchings. It was this densely turbulent and richly expressive surface that Stingel harnessed as the mold for the present work, alchemically transforming the collective multifarious vandalizations into something wholly new--a narrative of a transitory happening made permanent by means of Stingel's intensive casting process. Stingel takes on the role of mediator and elevates the scratching and drawing of the viewer above the status of vandalism into something of value. The gilded veneer of the present work functions as an agent, transforming the banal into the spectacular. Likewise, the use of gold conflates the immaculate opulence of its traditional form with a debased surface texture, thus inverting the expectations for this valuable medium. Through his wry exploitation of medium and method as witnessed in the present work, Stingel “has developed a singular approach to painting that aims to undermine the very essence of the creative act. His works do not always conform to painting’s traditional definition of paint on canvas, yet in their simultaneous attention to surface, image, color and space, they create new paradigms for the meaning of painting.” (Robert Fitzpatrick, “Foreword” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Rudolf Stingel, 2007, p. 9)
The present work reveals a multilayered process of creation that complicates traditional ideas of authorship. As individual marks aggregate in rich layers of expression, each mark loses its unique identity and becomes absorbed into a collective mass. Text that was once legible devolves into pure abstraction, subjected to a lyrical thicket of gesture. In turn, Stingel amasses the marks and reincarnates them anew through the electroform casting and plating process. By this process, singular authorship dissolves into a collectivized whole, which is again repurposed and redefined under Stingel’s single authorship. The mark of the other thus becomes synonymous with Stingel’s own authorial gesture. Through the lens of audience performance and reproduction through casting, Stingel attempts to redefine modes of production in painting. As Chrissie Iles writes, “The performative nature of Stingel’s mark-making makes evident its three-dimensional presence as a symbol of painting, rather than as painting itself. The pristine smoothness of its sumptuous surface has been destroyed, just as the purity of modernist abstract painting was destroyed in the 1960s” (Chrissie Iles, “Surface Tension” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Rudolf Stingel, 2007)
As consistent with the overarching themes in Stingel’s art, the present work bespeaks the passage of time, moving beyond mere representation towards an attention to the value of process. Every incision that accumulates on the surface, originally etched by crowds of visitors, is an explicit testament to this reflection on time. Existing as a frozen testimonial of collective memory, Untitled undergoes a process of relentless questioning of the relationship between an object’s mode of production and creator; therefore, the present work is not only evident of transformation within Stingel’s methodology, but also transformation in the viewer’s physical encounter with the art object. In the all-encompassing grandeur of the present work, time is laid bare for us to revisit and reflect upon, as our own presence glistens in the surface.
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