Rudolf Stingel - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Expressionism is a process. You look at reality and you let it move through you.”
    —Rudolf Stingel

    Over the course of his thirty-year career, Rudolf Stingel has interrogated the very nature of painting itself, turning the entire medium inside out. Born in the small alpine town of Merano, Italy in 1956, the New York-based artist first came to prominence in the 1980s with his celebrated series of silver monochrome paintings whose delicate interplay of texture, surface and pattern helped foreground a wider project to explore the boundaries and processes that underpin the very act of painting itself. A work of ageless finesse, the present untitled piece is stunningly rendered with silver enamel patterns playing off the deep red and purple tones, the whole composition imbued with a mystical quality that invokes the long painterly traditions of Arabesque decoration and Persian textiles, whilst simultaneously forming part of the artist’s own project of auto inquiry and artistic perception. Executed in 2012, it is a striking example of the artist’s famous carpet and wallpaper paintings, its shimmering details drawing the viewer into a series of poised dichotomies that interrogate the visual motifs of East and West, the luxurious and the economical and the abstract and the figurative.



    Johannes Vermeer, A Woman Asleep at the Table (detail), 1656-57, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913, 14.40.611


    In his critically acclaimed submission to the 1989 iteration of La Biennale di Venezia, Stingel produced an instructional pamphlet - appropriately titled Instructions - in six different languages where he detailed step-by-step directions on how to create the monochromatic canvases for which the artist was becoming celebrated. Presented alongside a series of Stingel’s own monochromes, Instructions sought to playfully deconstruct the notion of the singular creative artist with the intention of opening up his artistic practice to participation and reproduction by anyone who wished to do replicate his work. Highlighting the importance of unconventional but easily attainable materials, as well as using methods that were repeatable and formulaic, Stingel sought to democratise painting at the same time as he highlighted the aesthetic potential of everyday objects and environments. The present work falls squarely within this socio-aesthetic project. Executed using the mechanised yet aleatory process of painting first laid out in Instructions, Untitled sees layers of paint covered with a fine patterned gauze of silver enamel which is then removed to reveal a stencilled design of breath-taking elaborateness and intricacy indented across the entire surface of the canvas. The richness of colour and fineness of pattern evoke the ornate styles of the Rococo, Baroque and Belle Époque, although in its demystification of the ‘unique’ nature of the art object and foregrounding its openness to reproduction, it also evokes more Warholain ideas related to the nature of the artwork in the age of reproduction.


    Stingel returned to questions of materiality in his work for the 50th La Biennale di Venezia in 2003, creating huge immersive environments of large, carpeted auditoria and foil-lined rooms. Again in Venice - that famous historic crossroads between the occident and the orient - Stingel undertook a monumental solo exhibition once again at the Palazzo Grassi in the 2013 edition of the Biennale, where the artist filled the space with an intricately patterned Persian carpet, covering the entire atrium and upper floors in an installation that once again questioned the boundary between a work and its setting. Engaging with notions of authorship and originality, Untitled encapsulates Stingel’s artistic investigations in a hauntingly beautiful, meticulously executed, and profoundly mesmeric canvas. In the words of the curator Francesco Bonami, ‘By disrupting painting’s assumptions of material, process, and placement, Stingel not only bursts open the conventions of painting, but creates unique ways of thinking about the medium and its reception.’i


    Detail from the Alhambra Palace wall carving. Image: Pete Cutter / Alamy Stock Photo


    The technical abstraction underpinning the canvas helps create a beautiful and rich meditation on memory and lost aesthetic traditions. Acting as a kind of opulent palimpsest, the painting brilliantly evokes a mystical, magical carpet, lending an otherworldly intrigue to the piece. For Bonami, such magic is entirely the intended effect, the silvery skeins of the Wallpaper and Carpet works acting as a ‘fabric of history’, a mesh of texts and references. For Bonami, these documents, images, and stories ‘are the focus of figuration, while abstraction has the privilege of looking into dreams, visions, the future and its void waiting to be filled by history.’ii The mystical and allegorical nature of Stingel’s abstraction, and its potentially infinite replicability, echoes the decorative arabesques of medieval Islamic art. Like the arabesques of the great mosques and palaces of the Caliphate, Stingel’s designs ‘disappear’ beyond the framing edge without ending, and can thus be regarded as infinitely extendable, their geometry hinting at universalist truth. When the design of a painting like Untitled is combined with the potential extension of artistic praxis, that is an artwork that anyone can create, Stingel’s great emancipation of painting reaches its apogee. The present work is thus both an object of intense aesthetic meditation as well as the realisation of a more utopian project to liberate the work of art. Its importance is almost theological, its meaning transcendent.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Now represented by Gagosian, Stingel continues to exhibit widely, with a recent major show at the Fondation Beyeler in 2019.

    • As well as participating in the Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia in 1999, 2003, and 2013, Stingel has been the subject of major mid-career retrospectives at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. 



    i Francesco Bonami , ‘Surface Tension’, in Rudolf Stingel,  exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2007, p. 10.  

    ii Francesco Bonami , ‘Surface Tension’, in Rudolf Stingel,  exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2007, pp. 10, 14.

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • 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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signed and dated ‘Stingel 2012’ on the reverse
oil and enamel on canvas
211 x 170.2 cm (83 1/8 x 67 in.)
Executed in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

£550,000 - 750,000 ‡♠

Sold for £660,400

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023