Articulated in deep red-purple tones and patterned with an intricate web of iridescent silver enamel, Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled (2012) belongs to the artist’s celebrated opus of carpet and wallpaper paintings. Despite having been executed in 2012, the work is nonetheless imbued with a venerable, even ageless quality that seems to transcend its time and place of creation. Laden with a sense of dichotomy, the painting feels at once primordial and contemporary, majestic and threadbare, representational and abstract. Indeed, Stingel’s carpet paintings draw from a wide range of influences spanning East and West, history and mythology, fiction and fact. Evading any sense of neat classification, their points of origin seem to blend and blur beyond tangible distinction. As if wavering before the viewer’s eyes, paintings such as this speak to an ever-evolving modern world which is shaped by the throws of the past. As the curator Chrissie Iles has remarked, “In Rudolf Stingel’s work, the parameters of painting and architecture are turned inside out. The traditional qualities of painting – pictorialism, flatness, illusion, composition, and autonomy – become corrupted by a new symbolic framework, in which painting metamorphoses – sometimes literally, sometimes through association – into a fragment of Rococo wallpaper or stucco work, a mirrored floor, a thick rectangle of Styrofoam trampled by footprints, an oversized photograph, or a dirty carpet” (Chrissie Iles, ‘Surface Tension’ in: Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rudolf Stingel, 2007, p. 14).
In Untitled, Stingel calls into question traditional painting practices in order to generate dialogue about the perception, and conception, of art itself. The present work was self-reflexively executed using Stingel’s mechanised yet aleatory process of painting, for which an illustrated step-by-step guide was published in his ground-breaking Instructions manual for the 1989 Venice Biennale. According to this method of painting, Stingel would coat his canvas in a layer of paint, cover it in patterned gauze which would be sprayed with silver enamel; the gauze would then be removed like a stencil to reveal an elaborate design across the canvas's surface. Simultaneously evoking the extravagance of Rococo, Baroque and Belle Époque designs, as much as a Warholian ‘do it yourself’ approach, Stingel powerfully balances the complex relationship between intricate craftsmanship and a commercial process that undermines the status of the artist. These pictorial aims reached their culmination in the artist’s critically lauded 2013 retrospective at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, which saw him lavishly cover the entire walls and floor of the interior building in a Persian rug. Engaging with notions of authorship and originality, Untitled encapsulates Stingel’s artistic investigations in a hauntingly beautiful, meticulously executed, and profoundly mesmeric canvas. In the words of the eminent curator Francesco Bonami, “By disrupting painting’s assumptions of material, process, and placement, Stingel not only bursts open the conventions of painting, but creates unique ways of thinking about the medium and its reception” (Francesco Bonami in: ibid., p. 10).
Much like the modern master Gerhard Richter before him, Stingel’s practice is deeply concerned with nostalgia and the inevitable passing of time. Paintings such as the present appear haunted by the instability, fragility, and fallibility of memory: they shimmer and fade, sharpen and grow hazy, shifting as they fluctuate from moments of brilliant luminescence to fraying obscurity. Suggestive of a mystical, magical carpet or an ancient relic of the past, the present work is pervaded by a sense of mystery and intrigue. Like a worn-through and over-trodden ghost of a former opulence, Untitled stands as a visual manifestation for the memory traces we leave behind. Referring to Stingel’s silvery skein-like patterns as “the fabric of history”, Bonami writes: “Since history is constructed by documents, images, stories of the past, it can hide the subject of the present. Yet at the same time, because history is written in the present with an eye to the future, it can also reveal visions and dreams of the future. These documents, images, and stories are the focus of figuration, while abstraction has the privilege of looking into dreams, visions, the future and its void waiting to be filled by history” (Ibid., p. 14). Indeed, the image of the carpet itself has recurred throughout the canon of art history as a painterly device employed both to define and destabilise notions of space and structure within the image. At once invoking Hans Holbein the Younger's canonical The Ambassadors (1533), Johannes Vermeer’s elaborately painted Oriental rugs, as well as Henri Matisse’s vibrant and highly decorative textile paintings, Stingel nonetheless pushes the limits of this motif further still by creating paintings which not only represent ornate fabrics or take them as their subject matter, but quite literally emulate them as works of art in their own right. Dreamlike and elusive in its clandestine design, Untitled offers a potent meditation on the nature of memory, time, and perception.
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