New York

Rudolf Stingel

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

An expression of American mass-produced plenty and the lifestyle that goes with it, wall-to-wall carpeting indirectly serves grander, Modernist ideas about the rationalization of space, and, like other grand Modernist ideas, wall-to-wall seems to interest Rudolf Stingel. But, as displayed in his current installation, his interest in human interaction with architectural contexts, as well as in the affect of pure color and its reciprocal relationships with texture and scale, proposes a playful hybrid of formal purity and visual extremes, a Modernism on drugs.

This version of Stingel’s signature carpets consisted of wide-striped, deep-pile fuschia and cherry, running parallel to the traffic-pattern of the gallery, as if to usher us madly in. Stretching willy-nilly under the front desk and interior fixtures, the rug subtly aligned the given features of the space with its own visual rhythm. It filled the otherwise empty front gallery, and extended into the larger back room.

Entrance to this inner space was nearly barred by an enormous, pierced screen made of carved blocks of Styrofoam. Painted ice-blue on one side, the screen was monumental in size but insubstantial in substance—a high, square lattice punctured by circular holes, like a decorative carport wall in a Hollywood contemporary. Rough edges were visible and the manufacturer’s stencil showed through. In tension with the screen’s industrial quality, the blocks’ texture was crystalline and sugary, their hue mentholated, as if they might dissolve on the tongue. The light entering the room cast psychedelic discs of shadow on the ceiling and wall. Subject to the movements of clouds outside and viewers within, this shifting pattern delicately reiterated Stingel’s attention to the ways in which spatial organization filters and molds physical awareness.

Past the lattice, the carpet continued a few feet then stopped, dividing the space with a boundary even more permeable than that of the lattice itself. The gallery’s polished concrete floor reappeared, and in this neutral zone hung a series of large-scale paintings. Although various in size, each was an irregular monochrome, the black ground showing through. The colors—baby blue, acid yellow, bold orange, a sickly lime-green—fell within the candied/toxic palette already established, while the black read as equal parts licorice and menace. Stingel is noted for having published (in 1989) a manual for producing “gestural” abstractions by applying paint through a gauze that is then peeled away, leaving aleatory blots and jags that appear, at first glance, to be expressionist marks. But where the carpet and screen achieved just the right blend of exuberance and dissonance, the paintings resolved too easily and went flat. Up close, the impress of the gauze’s weave was visible in the paint, a “screening” echoed by our passage through the lattice, but this nice detail was not quirky or bold enough, and the paintings remained uninflected, too close to the defanged abstractions that decorate corporate headquarters.

Such a comparison was doubtless intentional. The deep-pile carpet and the alluring, partial privacy suggested by the screen echoed the decor of power interiors. But the carpet also invited a childlike impulse to take off one’s shoes and roll around; its virgin corners were exciting the way a new house is before the furniture comes, when the as-yet-undecorated rooms suggest infinite possibility. Towering over it, the lightweight screen twiddled perception in a masterfully innocent way. In this strangely exuberant world, the paintings felt somehow disingenuous.

Frances Richard