Rudolf Stingel (b. 1956)
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Rudolf Stingel (b. 1956)

Untitled

Details
Rudolf Stingel (b. 1956)
Untitled
Celotex insulation board, wood and aluminum, in two parts
overall: 94¼ x 95 1/8 in. (239.3 x 241.6 cm.)
Executed in 2002.
Provenance
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
Exhibited
New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Group Show, May-June 2002.
Aspen Art Museum, Now You See It, December 2008-February 2009, pp. 54-55 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Throughout the past two decades, Rudolf Stingel's work has incorporated such prosaic materials as carpet, insulation board, Styrofoam and rubber, in order to challenge and expand the traditional concepts of painting, sculpture and installation art. In 2002, at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, he completely covered the interior of the gallery with the ubiquitous construction material known as Celotex Tuff-R. The malleable quality of these silvery insulation panels allowed Stingel to mold every surface of the gallery's interior, creating a shimmering, bewildering space in which the edges, corners and contours of the gallery were diffused and made immaterial. Over the course of the exhibition, visitors carved and mutilated the Celotex, piercing the purity of its all-over, reflective surface. The present work, Untitled,, is a monumentally scaled diptych that Stingel culled from a similar exhibition. Standing nearly eight feet tall, the work presided over the viewer like a giant palimpsest upon which Stingel's audience literally inscribed their presence. In a direct affront to the purity of modernist painting, this provocative diptych underscores Stingel's continued pursuit--to examine, challenge and redefine the very nature of painting itself.

The silver-fronted insulation board that Stingel employs in Untitled exudes a kind of luxuriant opulence that draws the viewer in by its reflective sheen. Stingel has repeatedly used gold and silver in his works, from his early silver canvases to the gold-on-gold paintings that recall a certain Baroque affinity for luxury and decadence. The reflective sheen of the silvery Celotex might also recall the polished aluminum surface of Minimalist sculptures, like those made by Donald Judd in the 1960s. In Untitled, Stingel plays up the seductiveness of the silver-fronted Celotex, which looks so perfectly reflective, it nearly begs to be inscribed upon. Installed in the gallery space, the Celotex panels create an altered perception of space, in which figure and ground are merged, creating a dizzying effect that the curator Chrissie Isles compares to the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. The replication of so many mirrors creates a kind of voyeuristic environment in which "the mirror substitutes reality with its own symmetrical replica [creating] a theatre of reflection and artifice" (C. Isles, quoted in "Surface Tension," Rudolf Stingel, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2007, p. 27).

In the present work, Stingel subverts the traditional qualities of painting by his use of reflective material. If a painting's surface traditionally features the mark of the artist, then Stingel's paintings (for the Celotex works are described as "paintings") do the opposite. Because of its reflective sheen, the Celotex denies the viewer's gaze, sending it back to where it started, so that the viewer sees his own reflected image. Furthermore, instead of presenting the artist's expressive mark, the works depict the mark of the other, so that the viewer himself becomes--quite literally--etched upon the surface of the painting. The carved messages that are incised into the Celotex then transform the painting from a flat, two-dimensional surface into a three-dimensional object, so that the boundaries between painting, sculpture, architecture and installation are blurred.

If Stingel's Celotex panels indicate a painting transformed, they might also illustrate a painting destroyed, by the nature of the audience's interaction with the piece. It is hard to think of a more destructive, unholy act than the willful slashing of a painting's pristine surface. A direct affront to Modernism, the technique shares certain affinities with the work of Lucio Fontana, while also calling to mind such disparate sources as graffiti art, the Art Brut style of Jean Dubuffet, the work of Cy Twombly and the emotional intensity of the Abstract Expressionists. In the present work, one can see evidence of the viewer's utter delight in the act of penetrating the painting's surface. A series of small holes dot the middle register, in which a viewer must have repeatedly punched at the painting with a pencil or pen. Other viewers incised lines through the surface by dragging the stylus, bladelike, across the silver membrane of the Celotex to reveal the yellow insulation underneath. Another viewer wrote simply, "WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?"--a canny comment that underscores the ironic nature of "the gaze" in Stingel's work.

In his review of Stingel's mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2007, Charlie Finch described the thrilling performative nature of the Celotex works. "I recommend the back of a thick, expensive pen as the perfect carving tool. The feel of digging into Stingel's silver at the Whitney is most satisfactory. WRITE LARGE, okay? Ironically, your graffiti will disappear in the light of the chandelier overhead, for such is the way that foil foils. So what? This is a museoparticipitory exercise that, as Arthur Danto once said ... is fun for the whole family" (C. Finch, quoted in Stingelese, 2007; http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/finch/finch6-27-07.asp).

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