Rudolf Stingel’s, Untitled, 2003 was a massive pseudo-minimalist attempt at an interactive installation installed at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. The installation consisted of covering the walls of a small ante-room and a vast main gallery with aluminium foil-coated insulating material punctuated by pseudo-minimalist wall reliefs created by Stingel out of Styrofoam sheets. But, ostensibly, the principal purpose of this work is not to demonstrate the artist’s genius but rather give the viewer a go. The question can be posed, however, as to what exactly the viewer was given a go at.
I didn’t see the room before it was vandalised by the audience but it must have been a pristine, minimalist environment. Photo- or video-graphic documentation of visitors’ actions would have been interesting–much more interesting than Stingel’s concept actually. Aesthetically Stingel’s room is a failure. And the reason why it is a failure is because it is totally unstructured which, unsurprisingly, leads to chaos. One can contrast Stingel’s Untitled, 2003, with Rivane Neuenschwander’s much more successful interactive installation […], 2004, shown in the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005 (artintelligence). Whereas Stingel invited the audience to indulge in destruction Neuenschwander’s more structured environment led to more constructive products.
There were some elements of humour in Stingel’s installation, however, which focused on the “works of art” constructed by Stingel out of cheap white Styrofoam sheeting. These set pieces were also vandalised, although too a much lesser extent. Perhaps this was due the fact that there was a paper sign to the side of the piece which read DO NOT TOUCH!!! DO NOT INTERACT WITH THE WHITE PAINTINGS. Given the invitation to vandalism that surrounded these white “paintings”, their evident grunginess and lack of any significant aesthetic value, it was surprising that anyone took the sign seriously.
Highlights of visitor interaction visible when I took the photographs above included a message from Flora M which read “It took me twenty years to get into an exhibition” and some cute black and white photo-booth photographs of young women. All in all it was a rather depressing work in spite of its glitter. And the reason why it was depressing was not because of the audience but because of the lack of consideration of the practicalities of audience interaction on the part of the “artist”. As mentioned earlier, what could have saved this work would have been documentation of the various stages the wall went through. One of the most fundamental failures of Stingel’s concept lies in the fact that the work does not allow any inscription to persist. Everything is written over thereby guaranteeing a mess.
I am certain that video documentation (and one thinks here immediately of the link between graffiti and surveillance) of the various stages of visitors’ inscriptions would reveal more interesting contributions which were later written over. Obviously such footage would need to be edited and even sorted into a database; one thinks here of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Vectorial Elevation (Coulter-Smith) which used this method to preserve audience contributions to the work.
Certainly the fact that no effort was made to preserve any significant contributions on the part of the audience suggests that in spite of an apparent concern for breaking down the barrier between the work of art and the viewer, the primary consideration informing this work is the cleverness of the artist. For an infatuated account of the value of Stingel’s contributions to the apparently endless variations on the moribund Readymade theme read Jerry Saltz.
Saltz notes for example that Stingel’s “unforgettable 1991 New York debut consisted of a vivid orange rug in an otherwise empty gallery” (Saltz). Saltz informs us that this “was one of the best shows of the 1990s” (Saltz); which helps answer the question why New York lost its edge as the leading city in the world of art in the 1990s.
Apparently Stingel keeps on doing his thing with the aluminum cladding in galleries across the world; he has made something of a career out of it. So my advice, for what it is worth, is if you encounter one of these events then take along a heavy duty razor knife and use it to cut out big sections of the cladding and create a large scale abstract design. That way nobody is going to be able to rub you out. I wish I had thought about that in Venice.