Rudolf Stingel - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'Artists have always been accused of being decorators, so I just went to the extreme and painted the wallpaper.'
    —Rudolf Stingel 

    Over the course of a career spanning over thirty years, Rudolf Stingel has made the topic of painting itself his primary subject. Born in Merano, Italy in 1956, the New York-based artist first came to prominence in the late 1980s with his celebrated series of silver monochrome paintings through which he first explored the relationships between surface, pattern, and texture that would become so foundational to his practice. Executed in 2004, the present work is a particularly mesmerising example of Stingel’s iconic Wallpaper series, its repeating star motif animating the luxurious gold enamel surface and transporting us into a world of cosmic brilliance as immersive as the artist’s complete environments. 


    Pattern and Process

    'Mr. Stingel is among the great anti-painting painters of our age, a descendant of Warhol but much more involved with painting’s conventions and processes, which he alternately spurns, embraces, parodies or exaggerates. His art asks what are paintings, who makes them, and how?' —Roberta Smith 

    In its foregrounding of process, pattern, and texture, Untitled is a powerfully evocative statement of the artist’s central preoccupations: his troubling of the categories between high art and the decorative, and the demystifying of the aura of the artist as producer. As in Stingel’s most affecting work, Untitled’s ‘deceptively simple surface masks a tangle of intellectual and sensual side effects.’i  Although drawing its own proximity to wallpaper, the designs of which might seem so quotidian to be totally overlooked, Stingel asks us to look again, the shifting textures and variations achieved through pattern here creating complex rhythms and spatial effects that multiply across the canvas. 


    Growing out of his early silver monochromes, which employed a series of semi-automatic techniques and non-conventional materials in spraying over tulle laid on painted canvas, the present work was created using a calculated application of stencils to generate its repeating geometric pattern. Although engaging with more industrial methods and materials, this stencilled approach nevertheless incorporates very subtle imperfections and ruptures in its repeating patterns, indicative of the artist’s engagement with his medium on a tactile level. In its experimental approach to the more mechanical processes of art production, Untitled aligns itself to Andy Warhol’s purposefully imprecise screen-printing technique, most fully explored in his iconic Marilyn series.


    Andy Warhol, 40 Gold Marilyns, 1980, The Broad, Los Angeles, © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London.


    How to make an Artwork

    Rudolf Stingel has made a career dancing around the idea of painting. He skirts its authority by looking at its components, its physical identity, its visual language and its history. Representation, abstraction, process, pattern, performance, subjectivity and the audience are all his subjects.’

    After first arriving in New York in 1987, Stingel sharply pivoted away from the dominant trends of Neo-Expressionism that he had experimented with in Milan and began to conceptualise the possibilities of a more democratic and participatory practice. He formalised this approach in 1989, publishing his small artist’s book Instructions that, as its title suggest, provided a step-by-step guide of his artistic method and theories in six different languages. Presented alongside a series of monochromes, the Instructions playfully deconstructed his process, opening his artworks up to participation and reproduction in theoretically enabling anyone to make their own versions.  


    First exhibited in his 2004 debut with Sadie Coles, Untitled makes an interesting departure from the more frequently seen damask wallpaper paintings. While these evoke the opulent palaces of Marie Antoinette and Catharine the Great, the complex geometry and spatial interplay at work in Untitled brings to mind the most absorbing examples of Islamic abstraction. Favoured for their anionic quality, the repetition and freedom built into these expansive, interlaced patterns seems to open to infinitude, a quality that is masterfully distilled in the present work. 


    Panel in faience decorated with geometric motifs from Konya, Turkey, Seljuk Civilisation, 13th- 14th century, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul, Turkey. G. Dagli Orti /© NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images

    Although functioning as an important decorative element on a vast array of objects and interiors, these abstract designs also possess an architectural quality that corresponds neatly to Stingel’s vision of immersive pattern. As Chrissie Iles, curator of Stingel’s 2007 mid-career retrospective at The Whitney Museum of American Art describes: ‘In Rudolf Stingel’s work, the of parameters of painting and architecture are turned inside out. The traditional qualities of painting […] pictorialism, flatness, illusion, composition, and autonomy […] become corrupted by a new symbolic framework in which painting metamorphoses.’iii This tendency is most obviously realised in the immersive environments featuring carpets and foil-lined rooms realised in his pieces for the 50th Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia in 2003, and his solo exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2013, although it is certainly evident in the present work.


    Marrying the architectural and the decorative in this dazzling field of gold, Untitled reaches beyond the austerity of Minimalism, recalling the richly opulent and deeply intricate paintings of Gustav Klmit. A leading member of the Viennese succession movement, Klimt created immersive environments of his own, the repeating details and lavish gold ground of his three-panel mosaic ‘The Stoclet Frieze’ a celebration of patten and ornamentation that rivals Stingel’s own. 


    Gustav Klimt, Detail of ‘The Stoclet Frieze’, 1905-09, MAK, (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts), Vienna. Bridgeman Images


    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 Kirsty Bell, ‘Surface Tension’, Frieze, Issue 131, 1 May 2010, online 
    ii Kirsty Bell, ‘Surface Tension’, Frieze, Issue 131, 1 May 2010,  online 
    iii Chrissie Iles, ‘Surface Tension’ in Rudolf Stingel, (exh. cat.), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2007


    • Provenance

      Sadie Coles HQ, London
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Sotheby's, Doha, 22 April 2013, lot 14
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Sadie Coles HQ, Rudolf Stingel, 8 September - 9 October 2004

    • 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 2004' on the reverse
oil and enamel on canvas
240.3 x 194.2 cm (94 5/8 x 76 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2004.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡ ♠

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021