Friday, June 29, 2007

Beauty, Brocades, Truth & TinFoil: Rudolf Stingel @ the Whitney

(Disclosure statement: I haven't yet seen the show, but I am an admirer of his past works, and I'm looking forward to it. This post is more general thoughts about the review the artist's work in general.)

In looking at the A/V tour provided by Roberta Smith at the NY Times online, I'm struck again by the artist's intentional workings on idea of ornament, environment & surface adornment, notably in view of contemporary wallpaper and carpet designers who are positioning these craftworks more firmly in the nether region between art, design and architecture. Or should I say, between good taste and bad taste, high art and tacky luxury, process and product. Ms. Smith writes:
"Opulence is countered by austerity, spectacle is undercut by banality. All processes are as transparent and simple as possible...The show swings between painting as portable object and as immersive environment."

Stingel's past work, such as the huge floral carpet for the Walker Art Center, or his particle-board sacristy to Paula Cooper (excellently reviewed here by Jerry Saltz), places him in the recent tradition of artists who work in a decadent, allover consumptive decorative way (AVAF, Jorge Pardo, Jim Iserman, Barry McGee, Tsang Kin-Wah, et al), who manage to somehow insert a pleasure principle into a political and immersive (but human scale) practice.How can you not love this installation titled 'Home Depot' for the MMK Frankfurt, in which the wallpaper housed the same pattern of the 'artwork':

Stingel's use of 'cheap' materials such as styrofoam, mirrors, shag carpet and the DIY aspect of the silver mylar graffito piece tweaks my stingy reluctance towards 'participatory' art and the lazy notion of 'everything the artist does is art', but as Ms. Smith puts it in her review of the current show:

These paintings set a brooding, romantic, even phlegmatic tone at odds with his usual brisk no-nonsense attitude, but they emphasize several important points: The artist is always at the center of the art, no matter how impersonal it may sometimes appear; art takes a lot of thought and deliberation, no matter how simple it may seem; and indolence has its rewards.The implication is that artists in particular should do as little as possible. The sign of a successful artwork is its ability to derive the greatest effect from the least means.

Another lesson to be extracted from this elegant show is the oxymoronic nature of the notion of “empty beauty” that has been bruited about extensively in the last decade. This show suggests that if art is empty, it is not beautiful and vice versa. If something is beautiful in any sustained way, it contains, at the least, an idea about beauty and usually much more.

It's got to be said his self-portrait paintings are pretty amazing...which is a laconic compliment-with-a-sneer about photo-realism, right? And even the 'do-nothing' works have an air of shabby sophistication that is genuinely inviting and funny, through the simple inversion of putting floor-works on the wall (carpet, footprints) and vice versa. The aspect of his work which involve self-referential art world gags or the navel-gazing 'demystification' of the art-making process can seem kind of precious, leaving the question open: is this an appropriation of spectacle or is it a container of unapologetic, pleasurable spectacle as an end to itself? Whatever. I love it.

See the full review & voiceover tour by Ms. Smith right here.

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