Daniel Buren - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'Something exists within the object that can never be appropriated. This little part, I try to make it visible.' 
    —Daniel Buren

    Executed in May 1966, Peinture aux formes variables is one of French conceptualist Daniel Buren’s earliest and most important works, presenting a bold and sophisticated handling of the stripe motif that he adopted only the year before, and that would eventually cement his reputation as one of the leading artists of his generation. Remarkably versatile and capable of dramatically altering the viewer’s perception of space, these striped works have formed the conceptual core of Buren’s artistic project since the 1960s, the stripe operating as ‘not only something you can recognise, [but] also something I can use to change an environment.’ In this compelling early example, Buren adopts the red and white striped fabric as a ground, applying white paint directly to it in elegant, curving lines that interrupt and gently disrupt  the intense verticality of the fabric’s pattern. Lyrically animating the composition, these ‘variable forms’ possess a remarkably rhythmic energy, giving the piece exceptional wall power that stands out even amongst Buren’s finest works.


    Windows and Stripes


    When asked by Emily McDermott in 2015 where the signature stripe came from, Buren explained: ‘At the beginning it was intuition […] In ’65 I found this material that was close to what I wanted. It was the idea to have something very banal, but very strong. When I saw this [type of linen] material I thought using it would be much better [than a canvas]. I found it, used it, and I painted on it.’ The regulated pattern of alternating fabric stripes here represents one of its earliest uses, and the formalisation of his highly recognisable motif. Indeed, the measurement of each band adopted by Buren for each of his subsequent works never deviated from this format whether appearing on fabric, buildings, or books.


    Generating a loose, lattice-like frame across the fabric, the painted areas of Peinture aux formes variables take on the appearance of a window frame, its undulating curves like the faintest suggestion of curtains stirred by a breeze in a vague recollection of the sun-soaked Mediterranean interiors of Henry Matisse and Raoul Dufy. However, rather than moving towards any kind of naturalistic depiction of a scene beyond, the striped, mechanically reproduced fabric intervenes as a sharp reminder of the illusionistic nature of painting itself – a conceptual focus that connects Buren’s work to earlier Surrealist experimentation in unexpected and illuminating ways.


    René Magritte, Le Blanc Seing (The Blank Signature), 1956, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington 1985.64.24, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    René Magritte, Le Blanc Seing (The Blank Signature), 1956,  National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 1985.64.24, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

    Moving considerably further in his interrogations into questions of surface and perception however, it was in these early works that Buren made the radical and decisive move away from painting and to creating works in situ. This shift allowed him to engage more robustly with his ‘initial search for ways to strip painting of its illusionistic and expressive reference’, and to begin the inquiry into the nature of the relationship between art object and environment which has continued to occupy him for over 50 years.

    Well-known for his radical rejection and pointed critique of the traditional museum-gallery system, Buren challenged viewers to reconsider the relationship of art to its surroundings – most famously in his interventionist installation for the 1971 Guggenheim International, where his monumental striped banner was ultimately removed after complaints from other artists that it obscured their works. It is possible to trace this aspect of Buren’s practice here, the immersive scale and absorbing power of Peinture aux formes variables underscoring the capacity of Buren’s work to interact with and impact on the space it sits within. Tellingly, this has been a prominent feature in the work’s exhibition history. Providing a fascinating dialogue with the sculptural works of Alberto Giacometti in the 2010 Daniel Buren & Alberto Giacometti Oeuvres contemporaines 1964 – 1966 organised by Galerie Kamel Mennour, Peinture aux formes variables was more recently installed alongside 18th century antiques in a 2015 exhibition with the Kraemer Gallery in Paris.


    Detail of the present work
    Detail of the present work

    Abandoning his studio in 1967, Buren liberated himself still further from the conventions, expectations, and thus – as he found it – limitations that came with identifying as an artist. Joining the artists Olivier Mosset, Michael Parmetier, and Niele Toroni, in the year of the present work’s execution, Buren formed the group BMPT, whose central aim was to strip painting back to its most basic visual and physical elements using careful and systematic repetition. For Buren, the stripe was the perfect vehicle for this, and the mass-produced fabric that he used in these works enabled him to create a critical distance from convoluted notions of authorship.

    Appropriately, a permanent installation of Buren’s works can be found in the so-called ‘Matisse Room’ at the Musée d’Art modern de la Ville de Paris, and it is Matisse’s free-floating cut outs and playfully abstracted forms that most closely prefigure the pioneering work made by Buren after 1966. Placed into such an intimate and immediate dialogue with Matisse, the complete installation of Murs de peintures - which includes works dating from 1966 - draws out the exciting formal exchanges between these two artists, one which is so clearly apparent in a foundational work like Peinture aux formes variables.


    Daniel Buren in conversation with Bernard Blisène, director of the Musée national d’Art modern – Centre Pompidou, Paris.


    Collector’s Digest

    •    Buren now has permanent installations all around the world, including Diamonds and Circles in London’s Tottenham Court Road Station, as well as pieces in the Guggenheim Bilbao, and Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in Tokyo.

    •    As well as presenting new work with Nara Roesler Gallery in 2021, the French conceptual artist’s most recent in situ installations include projects for the Élysée Palace and La Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

    •    In 1997 Buren was awarded the Golden lion for the best national representation at XLVII La Biennale di Venezia. 

    i Daniel Buren. Quoted in Emily McDermott, ‘Stripes Across the Decades’, Interview Magazine, 6 March 2015, online
    ii Daniel Buren. Quoted in Emily McDermott, ‘Stripes Across the Decades’, Interview Magazine, 6 March 2015, online.
    iii Anne Rorimer, ‘Daniel Burren, From Paining to Architecture’, Parkett, 2003, n.p. 

    • Provenance

      Collection of the artist, Paris
      Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, New York, 8 May 2016, lot 23A
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Villeurbanne, Le Nouveau Musée, Comme Lieu Situation 1, 15 November 1986 - 15 February 1987
      Villeneuve d'Ascq, Musée d'art moderne Lille Métropole, Une Traversée - Peintures 1964-1999, 21 January - 14 May 2000
      Paris, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Daniel Buren & Alberto Giacometti. Œuvres contemporaines 1964-1966, 29 April - 26 June 2010, pp. 41, 77-78, 80 (illustrated)
      Abu Dhabi, Galerie Kamel Mennour at Emirates Palace, Daniel Buren & Alberto Giacometti. Œuvres contemporaines 1964-1966, 1 - 10 November 2010
      Paris, Kraemer Gallery, Kraemer Gallery / Kamel Mennour, 19 - 31 October 2015
      Paris, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Daniel Buren, Peinture aux formes variables, 1966, 10 December 2020 - 16 March 2021

    • Literature

      Daniel Buren, Daniel Buren. Photos-Souvenirs 1965-1988, Villeurbanne, 1988, no. 3, p. 283 (Le Nouveau Musée, Villeurbanne, 1986 installation view illustrated, p. 11; this work is illustrated upside down)
      Annick Boisnard and Daniel Buren, Daniel Buren 1964/1966: Catalogue raisonné chronologique tome II, Paris, 2000, no. T II-293, pp. 143, 182 (illustrated, p. 143)
      Laurent Wolf, 'Daniel Buren ou le malentendu', Le Temps: Le Samedi Culturel, Geneva, 25 January 2000, p. 1 (illustrated)


Peinture aux formes variables

inscribed and dated ‘215 x 180 cm MAI 66’ on the overlap
paint on cotton cloth woven with red and white stripes, alternating and vertical 8.7 cm wide each
206 x 180 cm (81 1/8 x 70 7/8 in.)
Painted in May 1966. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, known as an ‘Avertissement,’ which will be delivered by the artist in the name of the new buyer.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate On Request ‡♠

Sold for £881,500

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Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022