The year was 1994, and the show was an act typical of Rudolf Stingel, who had already tweaked the art world with a deadpan step-by-step manual on how to make a Rudolf Stingel painting. This time he took aim at the countless statues of Buddha he had seen in fashionable homes.
"It seemed like an accessory you had to have to be part of an intellectual elite" said Mr. Stingel, whose conceptually playful work, which combines Pop Art's puckish humor with the serene and cerebral qualities of Minimalism, is now spread out in a new retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. "I don't think it has anything to do with religion. It's pure decoration. It's a taste, a life-style."
But Mr. Stingel articulated this embrace by making his own Asian deity, one that blended the meditative Buddha with many-armed Hindu deities like Siva or Vishnu. In this new deity's six hands, Mr. Stingel placed the implements he cited in his earlier D.I.Y. manual: a brush, a squeegee, a scissors, a mixer and so on. Cast in rubber and made in 24 candy-bright colors, these gods of Stingelian creation became themselves an instant style-set collectable.
But there was a rub. The heavy bronze Buddha Mr. Stingel bought at a New York antiques store as a model for his deity proved to be irksomely persistent. Today, 13 years later, the 20-inch high statue is still sitting in Mr. Stingel's East Village apartment.
"I can't get rid of it," he said, "I have that Italian superstitious thing. I'm afraid that things will all go bad if I give it away. I'm damned to live with the thing for the rest of my life. I can't even put him away. If I put it in a dark corner, I think, 'No, he's going to get angry.' So he's always around."
Mr. Stingel's associations with Buddha are longstanding. As a boy in northern Italy, he played with the Buddha figurines that his father, who traveled to India for work, brought home as souvenirs. As a rebellious young man in the early 1970s, it was mandatory, he said, to profess an affinity for Buddhist practices: namely, to have a little shrine and practice meditation.
"You had to do it if you wanted to be cool," he said. "But we all faked it. It was all a lie-no one ever really meditated."
David Coleman, "The New York Times", July 1, 2007