With its intriguing interplay between black and white, Untitled (1975) represents the most celebrated period in Rob van Koningsbruggen’s oeuvre. In the mid-1970s, Van Koningsbruggen slid one still-wet canvas over another for the first time, resulting in a fascinatingly unpredictable, abstract artwork. Rejecting the paintbrush, for a number of years, the artist would explore the limitations of painting with his newfound method, using the canvases themselves to mark-make. ‘I think it’s important to make new things, things that have never been made before. Only then a painting can be powerful and expressive, and only then it is interesting,’ he explained (R. van Koningsbruggen, quoted in Rob van Koningsbruggen. Paintings 1971-1978, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1979, unpaged).
Van Koningsbruggen restricted himself to only a few variations when making these ground-breaking paintings. For example, the movement used could be that of sliding or rotating, but sliding was restricted to always being done from left to right. The artist also limited himself to canvases of basic geometric shape. Soon, Van Koningsbruggen would begin to experiment with primary colours, but his adventure first began in black and white: ‘they are inescapable’. The present work, with its elementary ‘non-colours’ in combination with clear geometric shapes is a beautiful example of Van Koningsbruggen’s early sliding paintings. The black and white merge into a vibrating mirage of different, subtle shades, while one triangular canvas provides a well-balanced counterpart to the other.
Van Koningsbruggen, at the forefront of ‘fundamental painting’, proclaims that the concept is the most important thing about a painting, more important even than the visual result: ‘I actually don’t care how the idea turns out. I hardly look at it, to my paintings. I see it for a second, but then it does not interest me anymore’ (R. van Koningsbruggen, quoted in H. den Hartog Jager, Rob van Koningsbruggen, Amsterdam 2002, p.11). With his pioneering sliding method, Van Koningsbruggen also fulfilled his desire to limit the input of the artist as much as possible, with Jan Schoonhoven being an important forerunner. ‘Beautiful is not important, beautiful is not good. Beautiful and good come together, if there is discovery in the work’: statements like this demonstrate that Van Koningsbruggen is one of the most radical and innovative artists of the Netherlands (R. van Koningsbruggen, quoted in H. den Hartog Jager, Rob van Koningsbruggen, Amsterdam 2002, p.11). Looking at Untitled, it is striking that aesthetics and composition were not Van Koningsbruggen’s main concern because the visual result of his method is extraordinary. Rini Dippel, former curator of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, highlights this in her introduction to the important 1979 Van Koningsbruggen exhibition at the museum, in which Untitled was exhibited: ‘To the sensitive observer, the forcefulness of the work is inescapable’ (R. Dippel, Rob van Koningsbruggen. Paintings 1971-1978, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1979, unpaged).