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Untitled (Bishop)

Untitled (Bishop)
signed and dated 'Stingel 2009' (on the reverse)
oil on linen
16 1/8 x 13 1/8in. (40.8 x 33.2cm.)
Painted in 2009
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Rudolf Stingel, 2009.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Rudolf Stingel’s hyperrealistic paintings confront the challenges that photography presented when it first became available in the nineteenth century. Posing questions about authorship, the purpose of reproduction, and the continued relevance of painting, Stingel address these issues head on in this quietly powerful canvas. Untitled (Bishop) belongs to a series of paintings which the artist completed in 2009, and which built on his earlier series of celebrated portraits and self-portraits. In these new paintings, Stingel portrays a series of saints inspired by the Gothic wooden statues which the artist would have grown up with during his childhood in Northern Italy. Painting these holy figures in the style of a photograph reflects the artist’s interest in the process of looking. As Chrissie Iles has said of his practice, ‘Photographs are always catalysts for, and forms of, that desire vested in looking, and thus connect directly with the “desiring machine” of the unconscious’ (C. Iles, ‘Surface Tension’, in Rudolf Stingel, exh. cat. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, New Haven and London 2007, p. 24).

Painted using a black-and-white archival photograph as his source image, Stingel reproduces a medieval wooden carving of a saint with rigorous exactitude. With its face half in shadow, the figure looks lost in pious contemplation. The textured surface of the wooden figure is reproduced with aplomb, perfectly mirroring the aged surface of the medieval timber along with the evocative way in which the light casts a shadow across the worn wooden face. Rendered in greyscale, Stingel’s execution goes beyond mere replication, becoming the embodiment of a saintly form in all its many aspects.

Using photography as the basis for many of his self-portraits and paintings of friends and acquaintances, Stingel takes his place in a conceptual debate that has been ongoing among artists ever since the inception of photography as an artistic medium. Unlike the German painter Gerhard Richter, who sought to disrupt both the sanctity of the painted surface and the proto-realism of the photograph with his blurred images, Stingel moves beyond photography by adding a temporal element. While they are the formal antithesis of the artist’s earlier abstract paintings, these works are aligned with his wider practice on a conceptual level, mounting a self-reflexive exploration of painting as a metaphor for perception and memory. The process of layering that gives rise to Stingel’s earlier abstract works is analogous to the conceptual ‘layering’ of these later figurative paintings, whose replication of photographic reproductions (themselves showing carved representations) unseat the notion of an ‘original’ or fixed subject. In this sense, Stingel’s works articulate the arbitrariness of memory, playing out the idea that a recollected subject is merely the retracing of an earlier memory.

Throughout his career, the artist has confronted traditional ideas surrounding concepts of authorship, and in the process deconstructed the practice of art making. In 1989, he produced an instruction manual on how to make abstract paintings, and continues to paint according to its formula. Together with his gallery walls covered with Celotex which visitors would scrawl their own interventions into (thus becoming part of the creative process), Stingel’s methods have defied convention. He asserts the deadpan materiality of the surfaces of all of his works, either by revealing the methods by which they were made, or by inviting their alteration or destruction. Moving away from the traditional divide between abstraction and figuration, his approach reveals a fundamental questioning of the institution of painting today—authenticity, hierarchy, individuality and meaning. The painter constantly redefines what painting has been, what it is, and what it can be. His ultimate goal is to demystify the artistic process, the artist, and finally, the art object. In this process of ‘stripping the aura’ away from art, Stingel manages to create astoundingly beautiful works.

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