Executed in 1989, Untitled is one of Rudolf Stingel's earliest silver works that have earned the Italian-born artist international acclaim. That same year he published his manual Instructions, revealing the process of making 'a Stingel', which propelled his paintings into the realm of conceptual art. As revealed in this step-by-step manual, Untitled was created by spraying silver enamel through a layer of tulle on to a canvas primed with a layer of bright yellow oil paint. The artist then removed the layer of tulle, leaving behind its permanent print and a richly-textured surface. The mesh's ethereal appearance, captured in perpetuity on the surface of the canvas, highlights its ambiguous quality of being both present enough to leave an imprint, but also translucent enough to allow the silvery paint to leave its mark as well. Whereas tulle is a soft, light fabric, the mark that is left on the canvas is structured and reptilian, its repeating patterns proof of its manufacture. The process of peeling away the tulle has captured all of its imperfections, folds, and wrinkles, creating a seductively tactile work.
Stingel presents a fascinating dichotomy between the characteristics inherent in the process itself and the imprint that is left indelibly on the canvas. Untitled is a celebration of the surface of the canvas, elevating it to a subject matter in and of itself. Alongside its haptic appeal, it evokes industrial means of production that draws attention to the infinite nature of art, how it continues from one canvas to the next. When seen in conjunction with the DIY Instruction manual, the Warholian nature of Stingel's work is difficult to refute: despite the visual parallels we can draw with Abstract Expressionist painting, there is an underlying conceptual framework that relies on its factory-like method of production. Equally, despite their formal simplicity, Stingel's use of silver, common to many of his work, has an undeniable visual opulence.
Untitled signals the start of an oeuvre that has continued to consistently confront the traditional idea of the concept of authorship, and offer a deconstruction of the processes of making art. Stingel's ultimate goal is to demystify the artistic process, the artist, and finally, the art object, and he has explored various means of expanding and critiquing the category of painting over the past twenty years. This has included large-scale installations that range from inviting viewers to mark on the surface of reflective, silver insulation foil that covered the walls of his 2007 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, to laying expanses of carpets in the Vanderbilt Hall of New York's Grand Central Terminal. Ambitious and visually diverse, Stingel's work continues to adeptly encourage the viewer to engage with the surfaces of an art work. Both visually and conceptually compelling, the silver paintings are one of the most successful examples of how Stingel balances our aesthetic experience of art while alerting us to its underlying conceptual framework.