Daniel Buren

One of the Possibilities


Not on display

Daniel Buren born 1938
Paint and dye on canvas
Support: 900 × 16000 mm
Presented by Tate International Council 2007


One of the Possibilities by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren is a sixteen-metre-long piece of blue and white striped cloth, sewn together from sixteen individual panels, with the outermost stripes of each section painted white. The seams and the painted stripes alternate, such that there is no ‘front’ or ‘back’ of the work. The top and bottom edges are cut unevenly, as is characteristic of Buren’s earlier works. The piece can be shown in a variety of different ways, and can change depending on the size, features or contents of the room, thereby creating a dialogue between the work and its surroundings. The different permutations are detailed in the certificate and drawings the artist produced when the work was sold in 1983 and which still accompany it.

The certificate includes hand-written notes by Buren in which he states that the work can be hung either flush with the ceiling or floor, or positioned at the centre of the wall. The cloth may be fully unrolled around an entire room or hung across two rooms, traversing a doorway. The work can also be shown only partially unfurled, and, ‘in this case’, Buren explains, ‘it goes from left to right (the part not yet unrolled is found at the right) and the left part starts in a corner of the wall … I suggest that the roll stops as soon as it meets the first obstacle (door, window, bed, object, painting etc.)’ (Buren in Tate Artist Catalogue File, Daniel Buren). The flexibility in the display means that a reinvention takes place every time the piece is installed and it becomes a new work on each occasion. The artist describes photographic reproductions of his works ‘in situ’ as ‘photo-souvenirs’ – a record of the work as it was at a particular moment in a particular space, and not a reproduction of a definitive object.

Buren was born in Boulogne-Billancourt in 1938. He developed his iconic signature of vertical stripes after he discovered a piece of commonplace striped awning canvas in a Parisian market in 1965. The alternating white and coloured stripes, each a standard 87 mm thickness, has been the basis for all his subsequent work. Buren’s use of this material, which is never marked and is only altered in length and width, evacuated any trace of the hand of the artist, questioning what might be considered art and the parameters of the art object. Importantly the repetitive design of the vertical stripe as well as his repeated use of the pattern throughout his career, provided Buren with a visual tool with which he could examine the relationship between an artwork and its environment. ‘Right from the start,’ Buren has noted, ‘I have always tried to show that indeed a thing never exists in itself’. (Quoted in Reconsidering the Object of Art, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1995, p.90.) From early on Buren positioned his work beyond the traditional frameworks of the artist’s studio, the gallery or museum. Interventions, such as pasting striped paper on billboards around Paris and filling metro stations with striped canvases, led directly to his practice of working in situ, which has resulted in numerous projects based around temporary, site-specific works. The contingent relationship between the artwork and its environment is integral to One of the Possibilities.

One of the Possibilities is related to an earlier work of 1971, Peinture/sculpture, which Buren made for the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition that was held that year in New York. Both pieces are made from the same colour of striped cloth. Peinture/sculpture was the subject of controversy after it was removed by the organisers following protests by the American artists Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, who felt Buren’s piece compromised their own work. The work hung across almost the entire space of the central atrium of the Guggenheim, closing down the open space and denying vistas across the floors.

One of the Possibilities was first shown in 1973 in a group exhibition organised by Michel Claura and René Denizot at Place Vendôme, Paris, alongside the work of Alan Charlton, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, Blinky Palermo and Niele Toroni. At this time, no documents accompanied the work and it was only known under the title of the exhibition: Exhibition of Painters that Place Painting in Question (Une exposition réunissant certains peintres qui mettraient la peinture en question). The work was purchased by the ‘agent d’art’ Ghislain Mollet-Viéville in around 1983. Mollet-Viéville was an influential figure in the Parisian conceptual art scene and his apartment in the rue Beaubourg acted as an exhibition venue and meeting point for artists during the 1970s and 1980s. The work was exhibited in his apartment in 1984 and it was at this point that Buren gave the work its current title. It is recorded in the Daniel Buren archives under the reference ‘BD1’.

Further reading
Daniel Buren, ‘The Function of the Studio’, October, no.10, Fall 1979, pp.51–8.
The Museum That Did Not Exist: Daniel Buren, exhibition catalogue, Centre Pompidou, Paris 2002.
Guy Lelong, Daniel Buren, Paris 2002.

Lucy Askew
October 2006

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Display caption

Buren’s work is concerned with the relationship between the artwork and its surroundings. ‘I have always tried to show that indeed a thing never exists in itself’, he has said. One of the Possibilities is a sixteen metre-long piece of blue and white striped cloth, which can be installed in different ways, depending on the size, shape and layout of the room. The appearance of the artwork is therefore never fixed, but will always change according to its location.

Gallery label, October 2016

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

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