View of “Rudolf Stingel,” 2013. Rug: Untitled, 2013. On wall: Untitled (Franz West), 2011.

View of “Rudolf Stingel,” 2013. Rug: Untitled, 2013. On wall: Untitled (Franz West), 2011.

Rudolf Stingel

Palazzo Grassi

View of “Rudolf Stingel,” 2013. Rug: Untitled, 2013. On wall: Untitled (Franz West), 2011.

A photograph of an old kilim was the source for the more than eighty thousand square feet of carpeting with which Rudolf Stingel has covered most of the floor and walls of the Palazzo Grassi. Such carpets are often created to pose enigmas to which their makers allude without giving viewers enough information to solve them, thus keeping open all interpretive possibilities. Likewise, viewers cannot completely comprehend the complex symbolic architectures that this particular surface covering expresses, since the photo from which it derives is grainy as a result of its enlargement. Consequently, one constantly feels that something is missing, that some complexities are escaping us.

With this “staging” of the Palazzo Grassi, Stingel has achieved something extraordinary, completely engaging visitors and drawing them into the symbolic labyrinth that characterizes the photo. The installation invites visitors to journey amid the meanderings of the human psyche. No wonder such carpets were such an important element in the decor of Freud’s study, as we can still see in Maresfield Gardens in London, where even the famous couch itself is covered by an Oriental rug. The exhibition path at the Palazzo Grassi is punctuated by thirtyfour paintings, some of which depict sculptures—or rather, images of wooden devotional sculptures, taken from old art books. Most of the sculptures come from the region of Italy where the artist was born, Alto Adige, or Südtirol in German, which is the language of the majority of its inhabitants. For example, the painting of a skeleton astride a lion, Untitled, 2013, is taken from an image of an old sixteenth-century clock mechanism, now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich.

Since 1989, Stingel’s theoretical ideas have led him to abandon an expressive involvement in painting in order to reinterpret the practice as a mechanical, eternal, and variable process—automating what was historically a personal process, as we see in many of the paintings exhibited here. Continuing to pursue this project, he has nonetheless created an exhibition that activates unforeseen and unthinkable resonances between his painting and the context in which it appears: not only the Palazzo but the city of Venice itself, evoking Venetian stuccowork and the velvet fabrics of Mariano Fortuny. The artist may not have sought out these references deliberately. But the fact that they can be found is a sign of his work’s power; as reductive as his oeuvre may seem, it is never merely self-referential. Within the cool context of Stingel’s theoretical positions, he never loses sight of the human factor or the careful consideration of his own existential condition. Two works stand out as examples of the emotional richness that Stingel expresses, both paintings full of stains: his self-portrait, Untitled, 2012, which opens the exhibition, and his 2011 portrait of Franz West, the recently deceased Viennese sculptor and Stingel’s close friend. Strewn with splashes, these portraits escape the rhetoric of commemoration and self-regard.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.