Rudolf Stingel - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Amid the attention showered on Rudolf Stingel in the past twenty-five years, little compares to that concerning his celebrated series of oriental rug paintings, which are both an homage to great printmakers of the past and a decorative expression of something profoundly new. Stingel has always maintained that art itself and the creation of it should be both an accessible form and accessible venture, respectively. Yet, in this striking series, he turns toward the more sinister elements beneath the history of such decorative motifs, exposing associations of wealth and power within the curvilinear forms of his shimmering paintings. Untitled, 2010 is a prime example of this simultaneous pull towards aesthetic beauty and societal menace, a superb piece of Stingel’s increasingly legendary body of work.

    Bursting into the New York art scene in 1987, Rudolf Stingel quickly became an established artist with a unique point of view; though plenty of artists had previously employed prosaic materials to create easily duplicable works, no one had ever outlined in a manual his specific artistic process in order to encourage it. Yet in 1989, Stingel premiered Instructions, which did just that. In the following fifteen years, Stingel experimented with common materials to produce works of unexpected beauty, even asking his observers for their participation in creating his powerful works of art, Untitled, 2001-02 bears the carved graffiti of its viewers, in which viewers served as both collaborators with and servants to Stingel’s artistic mastery.

    But Stingel’s preoccupation with decoration has been his career-long fascination, with no other symbol making its resonance felt as deeply as the Persian carpet. Personal possession of ornamental craft, in the history of both the West and the East, is one of the most telling marks of wealth, and there is perhaps no greater symbol of the legacy of continuous craft than that of the Persian carpet, each dazzling rug bearing millions of painstakingly sewn threads of silk in its journey to completion. Stingel zeroed in on this motif, taking as his subject matter—and final result—the blueprint of the carpet itself.

    Untitled, 2010 presents one of the finest examples of Stingel’s monochromatic tapestry paintings. The artist’s exploratory process begins with a thick application paint to the canvas surface, in which he then places carefully trimmed pieces of gauze, acting as a facsimile of the Persian rug’s silhouette, over this base layer of paint. Stingel then applies varying highlights of a single hue to achieve his desired chromatic effect. Finally, the gauze is removed, resulting in an immense and richly textured surface. In this way, Stingel achieves what he refers to as a 'memory of a painting', its presence materially absent yet essentially and lingeringly present. Stingel’s process maintains the intricacy of the carpet’s original design while also lending marvellous variations of texture and ethereal lightness to his painted surface.

    Beyond the intricate texture of the painting’s surface and the legacy of the original object, the present lot’s chromatic presence is imposing, to say the least. While many of his paintings take on a lighter sheen, Untitled, 2010 has a profound power with its deep steely gloss punctuated by sections of greater reflectivity. The elaborate floral pattern of the original carpet is clearly visible at all corners of the piece—we find the same circular motifs occupying separate sections of the picture, a testament to the rigid symmetry of the original carpet. Upon closer inspection, we can spot partitions in the arrangement of forms, in these places, Stingel uses the same print in direct proximity to itself. This may come as a surprise, perhaps, for the hypnotic beauty of the piece steals our eyes away from the particularities of the pattern and towards the more powerful impact of the work as a whole.

    Stingel’s lineage in his process comes from a long line of bold New York painters, from Andy Warhol to Christopher Wool. But, while both Warhol and Wool contend with the designs themselves as the main show, Stingel is unique in his appropriation of a single source used to create a larger impression. Here, we find the ghosts of centuries of palace walls filling our own, their influence removed but their beauty remaining. In this way, Untitled, 2010 is several things at once: painting, tapestry, carpet, political allegory, and historical document. It is this multiplicity contained upon a single surface that demonstrates Stingel’s profound brilliance. Yet, Rudolf Stingel also presents us with the dual gift of both permanence and impermanence in his optical feast: 'When an ‘attention relief’ develops, some things stand out more than others, in much the same way as the word ‘relevance’ is derived from the Latin word relevare, which means 'to raise up'. For the attentive observer, this translates into preferment and deferment…what stands out not only stands out from the area, but also forms the focal point of a thematic area gradated according to proximity to, or distance from, the thematic core. What is not essential to the subject is marginalized…Center and periphery are certainly not static quantities, but rather products of an ongoing process of centering and marginalization.' (B. Wakdenfeels, Phänomenologie der Aufmerksamkeit, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2004, p. 101).

    In other words, when Stingel employs the same silhouette in multiple forms across the constant surface of his picture, he plays with the viewer’s own sense of centeredness, allowing us to witness the constant visual pulsation that pervades throughout our visual interaction of his works. 'Decorousness turns tyrannical as questions of good and bad way give way to visceral intensity.' (J. Saltz, “Ask an Art Critic”, March 1, 2011, accessible As Stingel combines this historically-charged and resonant subject matter with his aesthetically mesmerising method of production and presentation, the result is impressively powerful—the viewer is engaged through both intellect and illusion.

    Untitled, 2010 derives its spellbinding power not only from Stingel’s perfect sense of aesthetic uniformity and balance, but also through the subtle involvement of a derivative symbol, one that once was formerly reserved for those whose word was law. The relic of a rich and storied past, as well as a powerful and charged future that lay ahead, the artist's hand transforms the Persian rug into an exploratory window. But, as Stingel reminds us with the present lot, power in art has been re-centred, and no longer are portraits of beauty relegated to the halls of the rich and lonely. In Untitled, 2010, the past is only a breath upon a canvas.

  • Artist Biography

    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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oil on linen
211 x 170.3 cm (83 1/8 x 67 in.)
Signed and dated 'Stingel 2010' on the reverse.

£350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for £482,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm