artist / participant
Throughout his career Daniel Buren has radically questioned the nature of art and the systems that support and manipulate it. At the same time, he has successfully worked within the institutions that are an integral part of this cultural machine. Born in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, in 1938, Buren began painting in the early 1960s and after a short but prolific period of experimentation with this medium, the artist discovered the striped material that would become his signature. By 1965 the artist had begun making paintings with a linen pre-printed with alternating bands of white and color that he found at the Marché Saint-Pierre, a textiles market in Montmartre, Paris. By reducing his paintings to their simplest visual and physical elements, emptying them of all illusion and subjectivity, Buren questioned the traditional expectations of the form, though he often applied acrylic to the outermost white stripes to differentiate the fabric from a found object. His interest in the literal components of the work, which consisted of both surface and support—the recto and verso—would lead him to explore aspects (both material and ideological) of a work of art that are not visible: what conventional painting, in fact, masks.
The repetitive stripes, 8.7 cm wide (the width of the bands on the original found fabric), became a "visual tool" for Buren that he applied to various materials and supports. What has often been called a reduction, the artist has explained, "is in fact the widening of one's field of vision" that Buren uses to draw attention to the relationship between art and its support or surroundings. In 1968 Buren began pasting pre-printed posters with the vertical bands alongside or over advertisements and bills on supports throughout the urban landscape. This type of work, called Affichage Sauvage (which roughly translates as "wild postering"), challenged the usual art system and was often made without any invitation or support from a gallery. These works opened up Buren's art to diverse audiences and interpretations and epitomize his interrogation of the museum and the conventional notion of the autonomous work of art. Since then Buren has inserted this sign—re-created with fabric, paper, tape, paint, and a variety of other materials—in and on a variety of sites inside and outside, including storefronts, billboards, stairways, trains, parks, plazas, markets, theaters, bridges, galleries, and museums all over the world. Situated in both art and everyday environments, Buren's works explore how different contexts or frameworks invest art with meaning and raise various questions. Thus, for almost four decades Buren has chosen to work in situ—that is, within and in response to a given location (and its particular formal, social, economic, and ideological conditions), which he sees as inextricable from the artwork itself. While the stripes have remained a recognizable element throughout his oeuvre, over the past two decades Buren's work has become more sculptural and architectural in scale and form. Materials associated with traditional painting, including the wooden stretcher and canvas, have morphed into freestanding walls, corridors, and rooms. Adopting these architectural elements into his own vocabulary, Buren began making work that both reflected and mimicked architecture. With his structures, which often merge with and alter the existing architecture, Buren creates "places within existing places" and offers a different perspective on what might be a familiar environment. The artist's new project for the Guggenheim similarly transforms the museum's architecture and offers a fresh lens and new experience for visitors.
The Eye of the Storm: Works in situ by Daniel Buren continues a dialogue the artist began with the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda almost thirty-five years ago. Buren was invited to participate in the Guggenheim International Exhibition, 1971, which featured a selection of artists whose work represented the "current state of art." Responding to a growing interest in site-specific work, the museum's curators invited artists to create work that had a relationship to the building. Buren's contribution, Peinture-Sculpture (Painting-Sculpture), included a 65 x 32 foot striped banner that hung from the skylight to the bottom of the first ramp, bisecting the great space. The monumental work challenged the building's own status as a work of art and its tendency to overshadow the work on view. However, Peinture-Sculpture was removed from the exhibition the day before the opening, following protests from fellow exhibiting artists, who felt Buren's piece compromised their own works by blocking views from across the ramps. The subsequent censorship of the piece ignited a controversy, which played out in a series of articles, reviews, and statements by Buren, representatives of the museum, and artists who spoke out for and against Buren's work.
The current exhibition features a major new site-specific installation which again dynamically engages the building's open, central space. Around the Corner (2000–05) rises from the floor of the rotunda to the top of the sixth ramp. Like Peinture-Sculpture, the current work also blocks the vista across the ramps, yet with its mirrored surface, cleverly doubles it at the same time. Reminiscent of a skyscraper under construction, the structure represents one of four corners of an imagined cube, large enough for the entire museum to be inscribed within it. Pushed into the middle of the rotunda, the intersection of the two visible walls sits directly beneath the center of its oculus (or eye). This unexpected right angle, whose sides parallel 89th Street and Fifth Avenue, reintegrates the grid of the city into Wright's defiant spiral. The title of the exhibition, The Eye of the Storm, refers in part to the critical "storm" Wright's unusual building produced when it was built. Composed of a scaffolding structure on one side and a mirrored skin on the other, Around the Corner not only situates itself within the museum environment, but it also references the surrounding city and its typical architectural elements. On a more literal level, the museum's spiral, made even more emphatic by the artist's signature stripes, envelops the structure and wraps "around the corner" of the cube. Reflecting kaleidoscopic views of the building, the work makes visible what is often out of sight or disregarded, and magnifies the already destabilizing architecture of the museum.
In the alcoves on rotunda levels 2–5, video monitors feature a selection of images (known as "photos-souvenirs") of many of the artist's seminal projects from the past four decades. Organized thematically and chronologically, the presentations situate Buren's in-situ works at the Guggenheim within the overall context of the artist's career to date. In the High Gallery, an installation of Buren's paintings also draws attention to the museum's role in the presentation and reception of the art. Buren has installed Murs de Peintures, a collection of 20 of his striped canvases dating from 1966 to 1977. Formerly in a private collection, the works were brought together as a single installation for an exhibition at the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1995 and have since remained on view and in the permanent collection of the museum. In Paris, the canvases were placed on two walls facing each other on either side of a Matisse mural. Hung "salon-style," from floor to ceiling, the canvases are denied the isolation afforded most contemporary works, which are set apart from each other and left to float in the supposedly neutral space of the museum's white walls. Buren's placement of the works both in Paris and here in New York question these codified practices and the powers that dictate them. At the same time, he emphasizes the work's connections to other works on view and the museum environment itself.
The works Buren has created for the windows in the Thannhauser Galleries, Color, Rhythm, Transparency, work in situ: The Double Frieze, Thannhauser 3 and Color, Rhythm, Transparency, work in situ: The Single Frieze, Thannhauser 4 (both 2004–05), make this integration of artwork and site explicit. Colored gels affixed to the glass filter the light coming into the building and allow visitors to see conditions of display that may often go unnoticed. Instead of re-creating an illusion of light on canvas, Buren harnesses the light in the actual space. The patterns of color are adhered directly to the body of the museum, which itself becomes a support for and part of the art. Reflections on the floor and ceiling further integrate the room into the work. Likewise, the view of the city and the park seen through the windows becomes recognizable as part of the visual experience. It is this ephemeral experience of the works in situ that is the crucial element of understanding Buren's practice and what cannot be replaced by text or photographs. Susan Cross, Associate Curator
The Eye of the Storm: Works in situ by Daniel Buren
Kurator: Susan Cross