The cube, which is the very heart of the Punta della Dogana complex, houses four works by Rudolf Stingel
, an Italian artist from the South Tyrol who has lived and worked in New York since the 1980s. The grey flagstones and the walls of cement (a material Tadao Ando describes as “the marble of contemporary architecture”) create a quiet and contemplative atmosphere that is perfectly suited to the works on display: one self-portrait and three abstract canvases.
Untitled (Alpino 1976)
dates from 2006 and is a large self-portrait based on a small, passport-size, photograph of the artist taken when he was doing his military service. Here, the photographic medium is wonderfully transformed by the painter’s virtuosity in his own medium. The image itself shows an almost ascetic figure, whose closed eyes seem to invite the viewer not to spectate but to introspect. In effect, Stingel’s selfportrait is the auto-biography of a painting via the “medium” of its creator. It is through this portrait of the artist that the painting narrates its own history, even if the image appears to be held in a frozen state—the sort of “freeze” that can turn a photographic image into an abstraction. The idea of painting itself is central to all of Stingel’s work, even when the artist is not working in the medium of paint.
The three Untitled
canvases (2000) are, in fact, surfaces that are embroidered with fine thread, rather like lace or a cobweb. As in a net, these mark out a regular motif, transforming the abstract surfaces into a type of figuration, creating architecture within architecture. If the figurative gives form to a sort of temporal narrative—a theater without end, within which things can happen—abstraction freezes that temporal development, generating a state of quiet, an absence. Rudolf Stingel’s work seems to strive to fill the gap between the abstract and the figurative. His abstract works and his portraits are engaged in a continual interchange with each other. The former overcome their rigid temporal limitations and thus seem to recount narrative, while the latter reveal a detachment that makes them akin to abstraction.