Untitled was first exhibited at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993 as a part of Aperto '93, a section of the Biennale devoted to new tendencies in art and emerging artists. It consists of a wall 5.2 x 9 m in area, entirely covered with orange Savannah custom colour carpeting. Viewers are invited to mould and sculpt the 1.5 cm thick pile of the carpet, facilitating an experience of the work that is both tactile and visual. One in a series of carpet-based works made by Stingel in the early 1990s, Untitled challenges the limits of the materials traditionally used to create a painting. Stingel’s practice engages in a formal and conceptual analysis of the medium of painting. By employing such unlikely materials as carpeting, Styrofoam, and aluminium-coated panelling, he presents three-dimensionality as symbolic of painting itself. The interactive quality of the carpet works is integral to the artist’s conception of a painting, as he explains in his statement that, ‘[he allows] painting, but not by [his] assistants who carry out [his] concept but by a public that inscribes its own individual response in a material way into the work’ (quoted in Rainer Zittl, ‘The Trickster’, in Bonami, p.35).
Untitled compliments Stingel’s other carpet-based installations, such as PLAN B, a floral-patterned carpet that he used to cover the floor of New York’s Grand Central Station in 2004 (reproduced in Bonami, pp.92–3). The artist’s intention here, as in all of his installations, was to create a work of art that is contingent upon an audience’s presence for its completion, and that refutes traditional notions of artistic authorship and autonomy. A similar tactic was employed by Stingel in 2007 when he adorned the atrium walls of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago with an aluminum-coated insulation material called Celotex (Hannah Feldman, ‘Rudolf Stingel’, Artforum, vol.45, no.8, April 2007, pp.260–4). For this exhibition, the artist invited visitors to draw, write and make imprints on the surface of the softly reflective silver panelling, effectively removing artistic privilege from the mark of the individual and handing it over to the collective gestures of thousands of viewers. Of the museum space, the artist has said that he thinks of it as a shell, ‘as it is for [him] the contrivance for [his] work. [He is] demonstrating that, using different surfaces, we can produce very diverse environments.’ (quoted in Zittl, Bonami, p.34.)
Stingel’s installations and paintings are often exhibited in the context of the paradigms of surface, colour and space that have been challenged since the middle of the twentieth century. In particular, the role of the monochrome as an intercessor for spiritual enlightenment is, with Untitled, re-interpreted as a parody of domestic banality. Stingel’s wall-mounted carpet installations engage the practice of painting with other media, such as architecture. Covering the entire surface of a wall with carpet brings the vertical, ‘painted’ work into direct tension with architectural space, such that the two categories of art are consummately combined (Chrissie Iles, ‘Surface Tension’ in Bonami, p.26). The ninety-degree turn (from the floor to the wall) performed by Stingel’s wall of orange colour recalls the rotation (albeit in the opposite direction) used by Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) to transform his Fountain 1917 (T07573) from a urinal into a work of art. Stingel’s rotation from the horizontal to the vertical reconfigures the ordinary domestic material of carpet as an object of potential aesthetic merit.
Since gaining recognition in the 1980s for his monochromatic paintings, Stingel has endeavoured to reframe notions of authenticity, hierarchy, meaning and context in art. Much in the same way that German artist Martin Kippenberger (1953–97) employed a commercial billboard painter to execute his twelve-part series Lieber Maler, male mir (Dear Painter, Paint for Me) 1981 (Saatchi Collection, London), Stingel has very little personal contact with his wall installations, the carpets for which are obtained from commercial manufacturers according to the artist’s instruction. With Untitled, Stingel re-delivers the Duchampian concept of the readymade, while challenging the conventions of wall-mounted paintings. His work evokes the statement made by the American artist Sol Lewitt (1928–2007) in his 1969 ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’ that ‘the conventions of art are altered by works of art’ (Sol Lewitt, ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’, Art-Language, vol.1, no.1, May 1969, pp.11–13). LeWitt’s assertions, which were born of a rejection of the subjective and expressionistic aspects of art prevalent during the 1940s and 1950s, were central to the development of the conceptual movement that sounded the apparent death knell of painting. While Stingel questions the conventions of art, at the same time he refutes the death of painting by innovating his viewers’ experience of art, whether it be on vertical, horizontal, abstract or figural planes.
Bernhard Bürgi (ed.), Rudolf Stingel, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Zürich, 1995.
Sara Harrison (ed.), Rudolf Stingel: Louvre (After Sam), exhibition catalogue, Sadie Coles HQ, London 2006.
Franceso Bonami (ed.), Rudolf Stingel: Paintings 1987–2007, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 2007, reproduced pp.86–7.
Rachel Anne Farquharson