Twenty years ago there was an artist in New York named Mike Berg who made efflorescent, wall-sized patterns out of found materials. At one point he painted a series of Fleur-de-Lys on the walls of a West Side waterfront building. The work which Rudolf Stingel, the subject of a modest retrospective now on view at the Whitney, did last year looks exactly like the old work of Mike Berg.
Most of Stingel’s stuff, however you want to justify his process (carving, etc.), is basically a throwaway, as perhaps intended. You have seen it all before, and if you want this kind of process, let me refer you to Jay DeFeo. In the press packet, Whit curator Chrissie Iles grandiosely compares Stingel’s wallpaper to the recently reopened Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Is the Taj Mahal safe from obsequious comparison?
What distinguishes Stingel are the rooms with walls covered by aluminum-foil insulation panels, into which you can draw. Happily, the Whit show has one. What Herman Nitsch is to blood, Stingel is to aluminum, actually Celotex, and, of course, he has ripped off Billy Name, who originated Warhol’s Silver Factory, where you could stencil the walls a la Stingel. But who’s quibbling.
I recommend the back of a thick, expensive pen as the perfect carving tool. The feel of digging into Stingel’s silver at the Whitney is most satisfactory. WRITE LARGE, okay? Ironically, your graffiti will disappear in the light of the chandelier overhead, for such is the way that foil foils. So what? This is a museoparticipitory exercise that, as Arthur Danto once said about some other show (probably Paul McCarthy), is fun for the whole family.
Stingel also presents some large brooding self-portraits out of Alain Robbe-Grillet, but pay them no mind. Bring your stylus and watch those museum guards flinch!
"Rudolf Stingel," June 28-Oct. 14, 2007, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).