Rudolf Stingel, the Italian-born, New York-based artist, is currently presenting an installation covering the entire of the Palazzo Grassi, the regal Venetian estate of billionaire collector François Pinault. The exhibition is curated by the artist himself in partnership with Elena Geuna, the former director of Sotheby’s Europe. The project was designed specifically for the 3-story, 5,000 square meter building located on the Grand Canal in Venice. What’s more, the exhibition marks the first time the entire museum has been devoted to a single artist.
Stingel has covered every inch of the museum, quite literally from floor to ceiling, with digitized kilm-rug prints. The oriental pattern of the rug, running across the floors and walls of the Palazzo, alludes to Venice’s history as part of the Byzantine Empire, as well as Sigmund Freud’s office in Venice, which was covered in oriental rugs on the floors, walls, tables and sofa. Upon entry to the museum, the visitors are immersed in a patterned labyrinth, a true sensory experience in which the unconscious can be immersively explored . The removal of the ordinary creates an environment of reflection and meditation, complemented by 40 paintings hung on the patterned walls. Drawing heavily from both Pinault and Stingel’s personal collections, many of the pieces have been created specifically for the exhibition in studios in New York and Merano.
The first floor of the Palazzo Grassi exhibits a collection of abstract paintings that provide perspectives on the art, history and architecture of Venice, with specific references to Middle-Europe that are particularly relevant for Stingel given his Italian heritage. Paying homage to his late friend and artist Franz West, an Austrian artist who died in 2012, Stingel includes his portrait prominently in the museum. The majority of the two-dimensional pieces in the show are monographic, and marks Stingel’s largest monographic presentation in Europe to date. Imprinted with silver, black and white paint, the works take on an industrial, polished quality that contrasts markedly with the heavy, earthen rugs that coat the interiors.
The paintings displayed on the upper floor of the museum offer another intriguing contrast against the works on the floor below. Painted in a photo-realistic style, they depict close friends friends, images of ancient wooden sculptures, and the artist himself. The subject matter is taken from various black and white photographs and illustrations collected by Stingel throughout his life, and explores the relationship between abstraction and figuration, a correlation that has continually fascinated Stingel. The paintings, especially those of the ancient wooden sculptures, feel sacred in the space, paying homage to the ever-growing annals of art history, while contributing to and enhancing the spiritual journey the viewers take part in as they venture through the museum.
Addressing the intertwined histories of Stingel and Venice, Italy and the increasingly globalized art world, and the various roles and percepts of Italian art throughout the generations, Stingel’s show is a fascinating fusion of past and present, paying homage to the long history of Italian art while looking beyond its influences to observe its current position on the world stage.
All photos by Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
— C. Stein