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Daniel Buren (b. 1938)
Daniel Buren (b. 1938)

Peinture aux formes indéfinies

Daniel Buren (b. 1938)
Peinture aux formes indéfinies
inscribed and dated '215 x 180 Juin 66' (on the overlap)
paint on cotton cloth with white and orange stripes, alternating and vertical, 8.7 cm. wide each
81 1/8 x 70 7/8 in. (206 x 180 cm.)
Executed in June 1966.
Bortolami Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
A. Boisnard and D. Buren, Daniel Buren: catalogue raisonné chronologique, 1964/1966, tome II, Paris, 2000, p. 147, T II-297 (illustrated in color).

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, known as ‘Avertissement,’ which will be delivered by the artist in the name of the new buyer.

One of the foremost figures working with institutional critique, Daniel Buren has been working with stripes since the mid-1960s. His consistency in employing this motif leads the viewer to consider not only the actual bands of white and color being extremely banal on purpose, but the surfaces and areas to which they have been affixed. Peinture aux formes indéfinies is a crucial work in Buren’s evolution of his much-lauded practice. It signals his shift from strict painting to works in situ, sculpture, and the conceptual inquiry of site. Anne Rorimer notes, “Buren’s work is rooted in the artist’s initial search for ways to strip painting of illusionistic and expressive reference as per his decision in 1965 to reduce the pictorial content of his canvases to the repetition of mechanically printed, alternating white and colored vertical bands” (A. Rorimer, “Daniel Buren: From Painting to Architecture,” Parkett 66, 2003, n.p.). Each work on striped fabric has the two extreme white stripes overpainted with acrylic paint, by establishing a simple but effective format early in his career, Buren has been able to apply his working methods to everything from canvases to streets to the interior architecture of the Guggenheim. Working exclusively in situ (meaning the site in question is regarded as part of the work) since the end of 1967, it was Buren’s initial interest in painting which lead to the strength of his oeuvre. By questioning the nature of one of the most traditionally held notions of art, painting on a flat support, he was able to expand the accepted criteria for artistic inquiry. Using stripes as an activator, Buren draws attention away from illusionistic representation and the content of the picture plane, and instead places it on the external factors necessary for the viewing of art to exist.

Nearly square in its format, Peinture aux formes indéfinies is made up of cotton fabric alternatively woven with equal bands of color and white, along with artist-added paint. The vertical stripes are all the same width, the measurement of each bar is something Buren adopted for each of his works from this moment on, right up to the present day, and thus this initial fabric can be seen as the genesis of his iconic motif. The exact measure of these stripes—8.7cm or 3.42 in—has never been changed, whatever their specific use (walls, ceilings, floors, magazines, newspapers, books, architecture, on very small surfaces or on hundreds of meters square one…). No reductions, no enlargements, never in 54 years!  

Most of the time, from the start of the series at the end of 1966, the two extreme colored stripes of the woven fabric, and then from 1967 the two extreme white stripes of the fabric, were overpainted with white acrylic paint, to put the striped woven material between ‘parentheses.’ With Peinture aux formes indéfinies, the use of brush and color neatly encapsulates the pattern except for one break in the border at the center bottom of the work, where the colored paint seems to leave (or enter) it. This application of color interrupts the visual impact of the fabric, and the push and pull of the woven fabric with the artist’s addition creates a complicated conversation between the use of the paint and its support. Guy Lelong remarked about this interplay, saying, “as soon as its outer stripes are painted over, the striped fabric necessarily evokes painting since it is directly confronted with it. A subtle dialectic is therefore established, since on the one hand the striped fabric evokes the painting partially covering it and, on the other, the form of the painted areas is dictated by the ground’s design” (G. Lelong, Daniel Buren, Paris, 2002, p.34).

Painted in the summer of 1966, Peinture aux formes indéfinies is a pivotal work on Buren’s trajectory toward institutional critique and one of the very last times a kind of a pink color was used instead of the white. By the end of the following year, the artist had abandoned his studio and moved to the streets of Paris where he made his first site-specific works using his signature stripe motif. He began to term all his works “works in situ,” terminology he was the very first artist to introduce inside the art world. He also started to work with printed ink on paper that he glues directly on surfaces.  Although ultimately creating a work in conjunction with a space or piece of architecture, Buren’s repetitive design allowed the viewer to discount the artist-made image, and instead question the art’s relationship to its surroundings. For his second one-man show in 1975 at the Municipal Museum of Mönchengladbach in Germany, Buren covered the walls with striped woven fabric and left spaces where the museum’s diverse individual exhibitions or part of its collection usually hung. This shifted the audience’s attention to the walls, but the spaces with a visible lack of content also held their own. Buren posed the question, “Is the wall a background for the picture or is the picture a decoration for the wall? In any case, the one does not exist without the other” (Daniel Buren: Around “Ponctuations,” Lyon, 1980, n.p.).

Works like Peinture aux formes indéfinies were crucial in working out the artist’s nascent ideas about space and the artist’s hand. Do we look at the striped fabric or the painted void? Buren studied at the École Nationale Supérieure de Métiers d’Art in Paris. Upon graduation in 1960, he began painting and experimenting with a variety of methods and styles; however, in 1965 a watershed event occurred which the artist recalled, “I was working with painting, but I was never satisfied and then one day I found in the marché Saint-Pierre a material, a striped linen, which was in a way much closer to what I wanted to do than what I was able to do with my paintings. I started using the material with very little paint and little by little the painting reduced to the point I realized I was very close to what I wanted, painting zero degree and that opened the door to something else I hadn’t thought about which was to work with the space and the possibility to work outside of the art system, galleries and museums” (D. Buren, quoted in S. Kolesnikov-Jessop, “Daniel Buren on His Career, Luxury Collaborations, And Why He ‘Hated’ the Venice Biennale,” Blouin ArtInfo, Sept. 3, 2015). The result of this breakthrough was works like Peinture aux formes indéfinies. Buren then appropriated the stripes from the canvas to a new medium, printed paper ready to be glued anywhere, and instead of painting around those bands of white and color, began to glue them first outside of a traditional art context and then anywhere he was invited to work. His eschewal of painting as an object lead to a greater questioning of the place of art and the role of the institution in its display. Daniel Buren has been honored with the following awards: Paris Biennale Prize for Young Painters, 1965; Golden Lion in Venice for Best Pavilion, 1986; The “Living Treasure,” Award, New Zealand, 1990; International Award for Best Artist, Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart) R.F.A., 1991; Grand Prix du Plus Beau Parking d’Europe» for Sens dessus Dessous sculpture in situ, Lyon, European Parking Awards, 2004 ; Grande Médaille d’Argent Arts Plastiques, Académie d’architecture, Paris, 2005 ; and the Praemium Imperiale for Painting from Japan Art Association, Tokyo, 2007.

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