The shimmering, opulent surface of Rudolph Stingel’s Untitled is an epic example of the artist’s unique discourse about the endless possibilities inherent in painting. Here, the opaque silvery surface—with undertones of soft pink and blue—is executed in the artist’s exacting manner. Deeply interested in the seductive, tactile quality of painting, Stingel’s applicative process imbues the surface with deceptive complexity, with a topographical display of ridges and valleys that cover the canvas.
The painterly facade of Untitled offers pure and immediate visual delectation, its delicately encrusted silver pigment shimmering with a range of ineffable effects. Through a veil of silver that varies in its effect from a hazy mist to a rumpled satin, a field of blue and pink shimmers subtly under the surface—an effect worthy of canonization into the Abstract Sublime. Yet Stingel uses this aesthetic gratification as a lure, only to ensnare the viewer in what is actually a conceptually rooted construction.
Moving away from the traditional divide between abstraction and figuration, Stingel’s approach reveals his 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 the “stripping the aura” off the art object, Stingel manages to create astoundingly beautiful art objects.
The glamorous appearance of Stingel’s Untitled reveals his affinity for an abstraction that is a step into the sublime, but not in romantic sense and his interest in the seductiveness of the surface brings to mind the abstractions of Gerhard Richter. His art connects to European artists who created monochromatic paintings like Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni and also to painters like Albert Oehlen and Christopher Wool, but the Italian-born’s work also can be seen as an extension of Arte Povera, albeit a somewhat Americanized, Warholian version of it.
Part of Stingel’s series of silver paintings, the handmade quality of Untitled is demystified in his limited edition artist’s book of 1989 titled Instructions. In it, Stingel deconstructs the techniques for creating his seemingly expressive works in a deadpan step-by-step style that is complete with black-and-white photographs and an accompanying text that states the directions in six languages. Stingel’s recipe describes how to whip a brightly-colored oil paint with a kitchen hand mixer, brush it onto the canvas, lay a sheet of gauze over it, rub with a squeegee, spray on silver enamel paint with an air gun, and then remove the gauze to reveal the finished painting. Rather than providing a deep insight into the mystique of the artist’s psyche, Stingel offers a do-it-yourself guide that democratically allows anyone to create one of his works. Ironically, a sense of aura still clings to the surface of Stingel’s painting, entrenched in its formal beauty. It is characteristic of Stingel that even while providing a critique of painting he simultaneously celebrates its aesthetic and intellectual pleasures.
Throughout his career Rudolf Stingel has put pressure on the modernist resistance to decoration, even presenting a stylized floral design of a Baroque-inspired wallpaper as a freestanding abstract painting. While the familiar pattern in those works might at first appear to be a ubiquitous fragment of a wall covering, upon closer inspection the painting reveals itself to be spatially ambiguous, as the variations of paint tones push and pull against each other to create a scintillating effect. In this way, Stingel’s work alludes to the complex spatial interplay of Baroque art, but with a distinctly contemporary twist.
For the past twenty years, Rudolf Stingel has explored various means of expanding and critiquing the category of painting, situating himself as a provocateur of the art world who at the same time revels in aesthetic gratification. In his installations, he has created silver Celotex walls that invite museum-goers to become vandals, and transformed shag carpets into grand echoes of Color Field paintings. In works such as Untitled, Stingel weds Warholian glamour and method with a DIY sensibility.