Rudolf Stingel at Fondation Beyeler, Basel
The Fondation Beyeler is devoting its summer exhibition 2019 to contemporary painter Rudolf Stingel (born in Merano in 1956, lives in New York and Merano). It will present Stingel’s major series of works of the past three decades, providing a comprehensive overview of his versatile artistic practice.
The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is the first major presentation of Rudolf Stingel’s work in Europe following his show at Palazzo Grassi in Venice (2013) and the first in Switzerland since the one staged by the Kunsthalle Zurich (1995). It stretches over the nine rooms of the Fondation Beyeler’s south wing and will also temporarily include the two rooms of Restaurant Berower Park. Conceived room by room, the exhibition curated by Udo Kittelmann in close collaboration with the artist does not follow a chronological order, focussing instead on the specific confrontation of individual artworks, whose selection and display have been conceived in specific response to the spaces designed by Renzo Piano. Some of the works will be shown for the very first time and the show will also present new site-specific installations.
Few artists of his generation have expanded the notion of painting and what constitutes it to quite the same extent as Rudolf Stingel. From his very beginnings in the late 1980s, Stingel has explored its possibilities and media-specific limits through the interplay of artistic strategies, materials and shapes. Based on his confrontation with classic pictorial themes, he develops a wealth of motif variations. Alongside various series of abstract and photorealist paintings, he creates large-scale works made of Styrofoam, cast metals, as well as spaces covered in carpets or silver insulation boards that may be walked on or touched.
Stingel’s first artist’s book, published in 1989 under the title Instructions, provides early indication of his unconventional artistic attitude. In six languages and illustrated with black-and-white photographs, it describes every single step in the production process of his abstract paintings made using tulle and enamel. Oil paint must be blended using a conventional electric mixer and applied to the canvas. A layer of tulle is draped on top and sprayed with silver paint. When the tulle is removed, it leaves behind a seemingly three-dimensional colour field, reminiscent of a barren landscape permeated by prominent veins. The Instructions suggest that by following these apparently simple guidelines, one can create one’s very own “Stingel”.
Yet spinning this intellectual game further, it quickly appears that, while the precise observance of all instructions may yield a beautiful work, this is in no way independent or autonomous – for one always remains the artist’s mere executor and part of a concept he devised. In a humorous and self-deprecating way, the Instructions therefore offer up a commentary on the art market and the art world.
In the early 1990s, Stingel expanded his repertoire and, next to abstract paintings, created his first site specific works. In his first gallery exhibition, in 1991 at Daniel Newburg Gallery in New York, he showed a single work: the entire gallery floor was covered in bright orange carpeting, the walls remained empty. Soon after and elsewhere, he presented another variation of a monochrome carpet, this time covering one wall of the exhibition space. While visitors at Daniel Newburg Gallery had involuntarily left their footprints on the carpeted floor, this time they were invited to smooth down or roughen up the carpet with their hands, like many large brush strokes. The carpet became an image in which painterly gestures time and again became visible, were erased and then overwritten. In the late 1990s, Stingel began working on industrial Styrofoam boards. Hanging on the wall like paintings, they displayed all-over scratches and other shapes, or the artist’s footprints.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, Stingel has been lining entire rooms with reflective silver insulation boards, whose malleable surface invites viewers to inscribe messages, initials or other signs. These installations aim at interaction, yet they are governed by the same immanent limitations as the works made following his earlier Instructions: while visitors can take part in the process of creating the work and leaving their mark, this always only occurs as a random, uncontrollable instance within the framework set by the artist.
In a similar way, Stingel involves elements of chance and accident for some of his oil paintings. Finished canvases are laid down on his studio floor for prolonged periods of time for them to incorporate traces of the artist’s everyday creative process. Little by little, paint splatters and footprints start to cover the abstract and photorealist paintings.
Stingel is never focussed on a single work as such; rather, he creates series of comparable and interlinked works around a specific motif. A motif can thus travel across images and materials, appearing in wholly different versions. The bright orange carpet once displayed horizontally at Daniel Newburg’s gallery reappears as a new work on one wall of the Fondation Beyeler exhibition. The photograph of a hand holding a spray gun, commissioned by Stingel to illustrate his Instructions, has been translated into a largescale photorealist painting. Details of the scratch marks that covered earlier Celotex board installations have been transposed into heavyweight cast metals using a complex and time-consuming process. One such work, twelve meters in length, will be on display at the Fondation Beyeler. Historical wallpaper or rug patterns as well as found photographic motifs have been scaled up and have found their way onto canvas as photorealist paintings, including traces of passing time such as dust and fingerprints. Various works of this type will also be on display.
Notwithstanding their material disparities, all of Stingel’s works share the presence of random or deliberate painterly traces. Time and chance, change and destruction appear on their surface. Stingel’s oeuvre thereby poses fundamental questions regarding the understanding and the perception of art as well as memory and the transience of things.
Some of the paintings were created only this year in Stingel’s New York studio and will be shown for the very first time at the Fondation Beyeler. The large photorealist painting of a spray gun mentioned above provides a compelling and insightful introduction to the exhibition. From the very beginning, they highlight the highly unconventional means relied upon by Stingel to create his paintings: the abstract paintings are made using the spray gun as his tool, or so to speak as his paintbrush. Applying the very same technique described in his Instructions, Stingel created new abstract paintings specifically for the Fondation Beyeler exhibition. The result is a series of five works – filling one room of the exhibition – that shift chromatically between pink, darker shades of purple and silver.
Three new site-specific works are also part of the exhibition. A wall work of orange carpet will invite viewers to leave their mark with their hands, thereby temporarily intervening in the work’s creation. Another wall carpet installation takes up the entire transverse wall of the museum and spreads across one of the exhibition rooms. Greatly blown up in black and white, it shows the motif of a Persian Sarouk rug. A work of Celotex insulation boards covers other walls of the exhibition and will for a while extend to the rooms of the Fondation Beyeler’s Restaurant Berower Park.
The full range of Stingel’s oeuvre and his firm examination of the medium of painting are also reflected in the exhibition catalogue: conceived as an artist’s book and designed by renowned graphic designer Christoph Radl, its 475 illustrations on 380 pages provide a unique and comprehensive insight into Rudolf Stingel’s artistic practice.
At Fondation Beyeler, Basel
Until 6 October 2019