Untitled

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  • Provenance

    Sadie Coles, London
    Private Collection, Boston
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
    That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered 'Other friends have flown before—
    On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.'
    Then the bird said 'Nevermore.'

    - Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven, 1845

    With Untitled, Stingel presents on an epic scale a pair of squabbling ravens kicking off a flurry of snow. Executed in 2015, Untitled is one of a handful of colossal square paintings based on wildlife photographs lifted from a vintage German calendar where each month was accompanied by a different animal from a regional landscape – each painstakingly painted to mimic the original condition of the photographic image. From afar, Untitled appears like a trompe l'oeil; however, upon closer consideration, the photographic realism dissolves into a painterly abstraction composed from a meticulous system of thick, accrued brushstrokes that endow the surface with a textured physicality. A striking example of the artist’s photo-realistic body of work that he began in 2005, Untitled brilliantly attests to Stingel’s three-decade long pursuit of pushing the physical and conceptual limits of painting to explore the passage of time.

    Untitled and its related works present a striking continuation of Stingel’s iconic series of paintings from 2009-2010, which were based on vintage black-and-white photographs of the Tyrolean Alps, where Stingel was born and grew up. As The New York Times critic Ken Johnson observed of this series, “Nostalgia adds more complexity. While the imagery suggests personal memories and old scrapbooks, it also evokes a time when Romantic artists viewed wild nature with religious awe” (Ken Johnson, “Rudolf Stingel”, The New York Times, March 13, 2014, online). In this series of wildlife paintings from 2015, Stingel similarly plays with the Romantic conception of nature. During the latter 18th and early 19th century, the natural world was divided into the categories of the pastoral, the picturesque, and the sublime – whereby the former two referenced mankind’s ability to control the natural world, and the sublime functioned as a humbling reminder of nature’s overwhelming force. With a knowing nod to this fascination with animals as both forces of nature and metaphors for human behavior, Stingel replaces the sublime vistas of the alpine landscape with colossal vignettes of the species that inhabit it.

    Whereas other works in the series depict lone animals, such as a fox, a fish, a woodpecker, or an owl, Untitled is distinguished for the dynamism and immediacy embodied in the moment it captures. Magnified and tightly cropped, the vivid scene of two ravens quarreling is exaggerated to a grandiose spectacle of nature. The rich symbolism associated with ravens infuses the work with a dramatic sense of foreboding à la Edgar Allen Poe or Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The Birds.

    The gravitas of the scene is belied by its source– a mass reproduced wildlife photograph from a vintage calendar. In his choice of found imagery, Stingel appears to walk in the conceptual footsteps of Gerhard Richter, who in the 1960s took found imagery from mass media and family photographs as the source for his blurred photo-paintings. Yet, as Gary Carrion-Murayari has pointed out, Stingel examines painting’s capacity to translate and transform a photographic image in a way that distinguishes him from Richter: “Stingel moves beyond photography by adding a temporal element. It’s not privileging the historic moment, not dealing with photography in the same way that an artist like Gerhard Richter does” (Gary Carrion-Murayari, Rudolf Stingel, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2008, p. 112).

    Just as the source photographs for the present series marked time in the pages of the calendar they were lifted from, Stingel’s paintings, too, probe the passing of time. Rendered in monochrome, Untitled amplifies the nostalgic charge of vintage photography. Powerfully expanding upon his photo-realist self-portraits based on photographs taken at various stages of his life, Stingel essentially explores the “that-has-been” of photography. As Roland Barthes espoused in his seminal Camera Lucida, “what the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, New York, 1981, p. 4). The photograph by its very nature thus oscillates between absence and presence, an ambiguity that Stingel intensifies through his process of painting whereby the image we see from afar dissolves into abstraction.

    With Untitled, Stingel puts forward both a meta-image and a memento mori image that through the very process of painting investigates the passage of time, notions of absence and presence, and authenticity and replication. As with the inscribed or imprinted surfaces in Stingel’s abstract carpet, Styrofoam and Celotex works, Untitled’s surface is inscribed with the traces of its very making – endowing the surface with textured physicality. The creation of Untitled follows Stingel’s decade long embrace of non-individualistic processes of creation as the means to challenge notions of authorship. Rejecting the expressionist attitude traditionally associated with the painterly gesture, Stingel intentionally has Stingel’s studio assistants construct the sumptuous surface. Presenting the traces of its very making in this manner, Untitled makes the cumulative manual construction of painting manifest – performing a temporal dimension that stands in stark contrast to the palpable sense of immediacy inherent to the split-second moment it depicts from afar.

    Twice-removed from the original subject in this way, Untitled makes visible the multiple layers of mediation that detach content from the present moment. In its oscillation between photographic and painterly realism, Untitled prompts us to consider what is gained, and what is lost, within the process of transcription. As the image of the two birds continuously slips in and out of our grasp, our viewing experience becomes a metaphor for memory itself. As such, Untitled, “is a constant effort to remember each step of the process of moving through life...each painting is in one way or another a souvenir of a motionless journey across the land of memory” (Francesco Bonami, Rudolf Stingel, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 8).

  • Artist Bio

    Rudolf Stingel

    Italian • 1956

    Rudolf Stingel came to prominence in the late 1980s for his insistence on the conceptual act of painting in a context in which it had been famously declared dead. Despite the prevailing minimalist and conceptual narrative of the time, the Italian-born artist sought to confront the fundamental aspirations and failures of Modernist painting through the very medium of painting itself. While his works do not always conform to the traditional definitions of painting, their attention to surface, space, color and image provide new and expanded ways of thinking about the process and "idea" of painting. Central to his multifarious and prolific oeuvre is an examination of the passage of time and the probing of the fundamental questions of authenticity, meaning, hierarchy, authorship and context by dislocating painting both internally and in time and space. Stingel is best known for his wall-to-wall installations, constructed of fabric or malleable Celotex sheets, as well as his seemingly more traditional oil-on-canvas paintings.

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Ο ◆23

Untitled

signed and dated "Stingel 2015" on the reverse
oil on canvas
96 x 96 in. (243.8 x 243.8 cm.)
Painted in 2015.

Estimate
$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

sold for $5,940,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018