• Duration of the Exhibition10. February 2010 - 22. August 2010
  • VenueNeue Nationalgalerie
  • An exhibition by the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Made possible by the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie.

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.

As a powerful, black-and-white structure on the floor, the installation can also be interpreted as a comment on painting, something of a response to the American artist Jackson Pollock, who in the 1950s took the world by storm with emotionally laden ‘gestures’ in paint. The outlines in Stingel’s carpet, however, bare no trace of the individual moment. Instead, the entire mechanical method of the work’s production is unmistakeable. Like all the rest of us today, Rudolf Stingel does much of his work on the computer and takes advantages of the possibilities of scanning and shaping. His installation is testament to the distanced roleof the artist today. To see the work ‘live’, it requires the ‘performance’ of the visitors who move on its surface and by doing so constantly redefine it.

Parallel to this open installation, four new paintings by the artist are also on display on the gallery’s lower floor which are similarly taken up with the idea of expanse and boundlessness of space – although this time with a view to nature. The four paintings depict views of the Alps, the peaks of the mountains around Merano and the Stafelalp near Davos. The pictures are all based on photographs and thereby also contain traces of the past that have been captured in scratches or dust on the originals. The ‘live’ aspect encapsulated in the painter’s presence in these works on the lower floor can best be seen in the Stafelalp painting.

The work is modelled on a photo by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who settled there after the First World War and who committed suicide there in 1938. On the negative of the photograph taken by Kirchner himself, Kirchner’s fingerprint is preserved alongside the view of the landscape and has been included by Stingel in his painting. Once again Stingel makes clear reference to reproduction processes, presenting his own work in a highly ironic light as an apparently simple act of mere imitation. However, the evident painterly finesse in the elegant grisaille images means Rudolf Stingel emerges as a virtuous painter. The overwhelming impact of the mountainous landscapes is indeed deliberate and connects Stingel with certain Romantic models, such as those by Caspar David Friedrich.

By referring to the Stafelalp and the fate of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Stingel evokes a tragic episode in classical modernism. Coming as it does at the end of the ‘LIVE’ exhibition, this particular painting purposefully functions as a springboard to the Neue Nationalgalerie’s own permanent collection, in which prominent works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are on display.

„Rudolf Stingel. LIVE“ is part of „Dornbracht Installation Projects“.