Rudolf Stingel, who originally comes from South Tyrol and now lives mainly in New York, has designed an installation especially for the Neue Nationalgalerie that is both simple and imposing at once. A carpet has been laid out on the granite fl oor of the gallery’s large hall, produced specifically for the exhibition.
The carpet’s pattern takes its inspiration from an old, Indian Agra rug, belonging to the artist himself, which forms the basis for the temporary artwork. Rudolf Stingel initially transposed his carpet’s decorative pattern into a black-and-white image and then had it digitally magnifi ed and printed onto numerous large strips of carpet. The result, when pieced together, is a monumental artistic gesture, a vast unending pattern within the space. Combined with the crystal chan de lier suspended above the carpet, the work bears com plex allusions to European art and cultural history.
Even today, Agra rugs and other Indian and Persian carpets are some of the most striking features in the homes of the middle-classes. They were especially widely found (along with many other kinds of ‘orientalia’) in the salon culture of the 19th and early 20th century. Spread out in lavishly decorated interiors, the carpets stood for a refined lifestyle, for a humanistic view of life, or as Rudolf Stingel himself says: ‘for a tempered yearning for the other’. The carpets remained popular well into the 20th century and early modernist artists, such as the Expressionists, or the UFA film stars in Berlin, adored the exoticism of the ornately patterned fabrics and rugs. And it was precisely this kind of often very flamboyant taste in décor that the Bauhaus aesthetic was opposed to in the 1920s.
The artists of the Bauhaus School based their picturers, sculptures and buildings on elementary structures; they demanded clarity and concision. Still very much in keeping with this tradition, the Neue Nationalgalerie was constructed in 1968, designed by none other than the former director of the Bauhaus, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Rudolf Stingel’s installation sees this triumph of modernism turned on its head, with the building, and its strictly adhered to purism, now coupled with rich, ornamental flourishes. The Neue Nationalgalerie has often been proclaimed a ‘temple to modernism’
– for Rudolf Stingel, it is indeed a sacred site, but now one with marked oriental overtones. As is customary in Arabian homes or in mosques, his carpet invites visitors to sit and lie down on it – recumbent body positions more frequently associated in Europe with relaxation and the private sphere.
In an ironic gesture, a magnificent crystal chandelier hovers in the air above the carpet, reminiscent of places of great pomp and ceremony and glamorous spectacles. At the same time, the chandelier underscores the inextricably European outlook of the artist himself. In very real terms, the chandelier serves the principal function of highlighting the ornamental carpet that seems to stretch into infinity in the vastness of the glass house in which it is suspended.