Untitled (After Sam)

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
    Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 4 Mach 2011, lot 16
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Video

    Rudolf Stingel, 'Untitled (After Sam)', Lot 6

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Catalogue Essay

    Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled (After Sam), 2007, is a strikingly intimate work from the artist’s iconic series of self-portraits that form a major component of his ongoing exploration of a process-oriented approach to painting. In the present work, Stingel dances around an idea of painting that is as much about seeing as it is about making, taking on notions of figuration, representation, abstraction, process, pattern, performance and subjectivity. In the artist’s own words, his practice takes ‘on the subject of painting’ – that is to say, its codes and constraints, its history and responsibilities (Rudolf Stingel, quoted in ‘Art: Going on About Town,’ New Yorker, 19 May 2008). Currently the subject of a critically acclaimed retrospective at the Beyeler Foundation, Basel, further examples from this suite of self-portraits reside in esteemed public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

    Testament to the artist’s profound expansion of the definition of painting, over the course of his career Stingel has embarked on a number of artistic pursuits that blur the boundaries between artistic genres. He enveloped the floors of New York’s Grand Central Station with a floral-patterned carpet in 2004, repeated the same gesture over the entirety of the Palazzo Grassi’s rooms, Venice, nine years later, and cloaked the walls of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art with silver-backed insulation boards that accumulated the etched graffiti of visitors in 2007. In Untitled (After Sam), the artist visits processes of Photorealism as an exercise through which to negotiate the relationship between painting and photography.

    As he approached his fiftieth birthday in 2005, Stingel introduced portraiture into his artistic lexicon, using his own image as an arena for existential self-reflection. This new theme aligned with a lineage of artists using the subject of self-portraiture as a means of facing their own mortality, including Albrecht Dürer, Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch. It also evokes the practice of 20th century masters such as Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter, who incorporated photographs as source material in order to confront the inherent representational failure of both mediums’ relationship with reality and interiority. Notably, it was also on the year of his fiftieth birthday that Richter painted his first candle painting, a potent memento mori that became known as one of his most important subjects.

    Untitled (After Sam) is based on a series of photographs that were taken in close collaboration with Stingel’s friend and fellow artist Sam Samore. Precisely and painstakingly rendered in tones of grey, black and white, the image has been transposed from its diminutive source to present dimensions using a gridded format and mirrored photographic projection. Other iterations employing the same image were enlarged to epic proportions reminiscent of billboards or cinema screens and, as in the constructed nature of the latter, would appear lifelike when viewed from afar, but break down into monochromatic daubs upon close inspection. Oscillating between the figurative and the abstract, the intimate and the monumental, Stingel’s self portraits have been likened to the Photorealist canvases of Swiss artist Franz Gertsch, who in the 1960s began to paint epic, dramatically realist portraits and scenes of bohemian urban life, the influence of which Stingel has said he found revelatory: ‘It was the way he painted it. When you get close to a Gertsch, it looks like an abstract painting by someone who doesn’t know how to paint. But if you walk away it becomes sharp and fantastic. This kind of painting triggered my decision to become a ‘contemporary artist’, and it always stayed in my mind.’ (Rudolf Stingel, quoted in ‘1,000 Words: Rudolf Stingel Talks About His Latest Installation’, Artforum, May 2005, p. 221).

    World-weary, a crumpled Stingel lies on a hotel bed, still wearing a pinstripe suit jacket and gazing, listlessly, up at the ceiling and beyond the picture plane. Melancholic yet immobilised, the image exudes a sense of action immediately passed or just outside of the frame, tantalisingly close but unavailable to the viewer. In its dramatic foreshortening and corporeal compression, his position recalls the perspective distortions of Andrea Mantegna’s enigmatic depiction of the supine body of Christ, The Lamentation over Dead Christ, c.1483. Stingel appears worn out by the weight of his artistic forebears – and in the words of Francesco Bonami, curator of Stingel’s 2007 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, ‘the weight of art history, the weight of generations of painters asking the same question and never finding the right answer, the responsibility to be in charge of Painting, maybe for the last time, maybe and more tragically, forever’ (Francesco Bonami, ‘Paintings of Painting for Paintings,’ in Rudolf Stingel, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, 2007, p. 20). Notable here is how this exaggerated description of the exulted status of painting and by extension, that of painters themselves, functions in direct contradistinction to the rallying cries of the death of the medium that accompanied the beginning of Stingel’s career. Mobilising photography’s innate ability to capture themes of memory, time and mortality as infiltrator, his work exacerbates the underlying conceptual rigour of painting in the 21st century.

    From the 1989 publication of his seminal Instructions, a limited edition art book that outlined the intricate method by which his early enamel works could be replicated, Stingel’s practice has routinely demystified studio processes and subverted notions of authorial genius in favour of a sense of industrial manufacture and mechanised nature. A complex conceptual contortion, the present work’s title – After Sam – directly acknowledges the photographer, making evident that this self-portrait is the reworking of an existing portrait of Stingel, one made by another artist. In Stingel’s hands, historical reliance on the manual mastery of painting is deconstructed by its meticulous re-assemblance through photography. The ‘authenticity’ of the portrait recoils from both the subject matter of the painting (Stingel) and its creator (the artist’s hand) towards its source photograph, creating a feedback loop between artist and image, painting and photography, the transience of life and the permanence of art that plays out as if a frozen film still. A mode of investigation after the impasse of figurative painting, these works are, he has said, ‘something more psychological … the only activity in these paintings is self-doubt’ (Rudolf Stingel, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Portrait’, Parkett 77, 2006, p. 107).

    The tension between sameness and difference in Stingel’s serially produced self-portraiture is what provides their theoretical undergirding. Stripped of its quest for internal realisation, in Stingel’s hands the self-portrait becomes a tool by which to externalise the intrinsically performative nature of the artist’s subjectivity and creative labour. Rather than a self-portrait of the artist, then, the works are portraits of Rudolf Stingel as an artist – a deadpan send-up of the contemplative image of the painter as Romantic anti-hero.

  • 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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6

Untitled (After Sam)

signed and dated 'Stingel 2007' on the reverse
oil on canvas
38.1 x 52.1 cm (15 x 20 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2007.

Estimate
£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £1,695,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060
rwiden@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019