Having first come to prominence in the 1980s with his monochromatic paintings, Stingel’s work has always reflected a preoccupation with challenging the authenticity, meaning, and hierarchy of painting in an effort to demystify artistic practice. Untitled maintains this concentration by challenging the primacy of painting and overlaying this traditional practice with shimmering enamel. In 1989, Stingel published Instructions; a step-by-step manual detailing the mechanised procedure used to create his works. Exhibited alongside a small sculpture of Buddha holding the tools used to create the Instruction Paintings, this satirical idol pokes fun at the reverence with which the painter’s process is regarded. Stingel’s Instructions recall Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings and Andy Warhol’s Do It Yourself paintings by welcoming reproduction as a legitimate expansion of a work into a series. As curator Francesco Bonami writes, in doing so, Stingel “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, Rudolf Stingel, 2007, p. 18).
Executed in 2007, the creation of Untitled corresponds with a major mid-career retrospective of Stingel’s work hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago which showcased several of his first Instruction Paintings. In this context, Stingel’s Untitled can be considered a rebirth of these first meditations on notions of authenticity, originality, and authorship. Alongside these works, the retrospective included several of Stingel’s interactive pieces including Celotex insulation board works which invite the viewer to draw and write on their reflective silver panes installed on the gallery’s walls. By inviting audiences to participate in the mutation of his work, Stingel allows his artworks to expand beyond single authorship and develop as public collaborations. By relinquishing control over the manipulation of surface of these participatory works, Stingel further estranges himself from artistic labour. The redefinition of the picture plane as a material surface rather than a field of representation serves as the narrative thread which holds Stingel’s oeuvre together. In May 2019 a major retrospective of Stingel's career opened to great acclaim at the Fondation Beyeler and today his status as one of the most important artistic voices of the Twenty-First Century is truly set in stone.
In Untitled, Stingel encourages the viewer to forgo traditional categorisations of medium and style and instead consider the work from a conceptual point of view. The viewer’s contemplation is then thrown back at them as the glittering surface of the work reveals glimmers of their quivering reflection. Curator and art critic Massimiliano Gioni writes that “Stingel has sought to strike a balance between conceptual rigor and the retinal sensuality of painting, between detachment and participation, even between decorativeness and mental purity. His art embodies the paradox of loving painting but wanting to destroy it – or, in any case, to bend it to serve new and unexpected purposes” (Massimiliano Gioni cited in: ‘The People’s Painting: How to Understand Rudolf Stingel’s Crowdsourced Magnum Opus’, Artspace Magazine, January 2016, online). Untitled is an extraordinary example of Stingel’s transformation of painting into a theoretical meditation on artistic production while championing the idiosyncratic aesthetic for which Stingel became famed.
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