RA Magazine Winter 2011
Issue Number: 113
Preview: Daniel Buren at Lisson Gallery
Emma Crichton-Miller asks Daniel Buren, the artist whose lines have a life of their own, why the stripes?
In the darkened auditorium at Frieze Art Fair, Daniel Buren smiles as a question rises from the audience: ‘Why the stripes?’ Buren is a site-specific artist, born in France in 1938, renowned for his bold, often architectural-scale interventions into environments as varied as Tuscan farmland, downtown Manhattan, and the Ministry of Labour, Berlin. In 1971, he dressed the central rotunda of the Guggenheim in New York with a 20-metre high striped cloth. In 1986, the year he won a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for best pavilion, he installed perhaps his most famous work, Les Deux Plateaux (The Two Levels) or, as it has become known, Buren’s Columns, in the courtyard of the Palais Royal, now marked out by regimented lines of black-and-white columns of varying heights.
The stripe was an accidental by-product, Buren explains, of a bigger question: how do you make art without a studio? In 1965 he worked in the streets of Paris, seizing on the ubiquitous striped awnings of the shops to make unsolicited public art works. ‘The stripes became a visual tool,’ he continues. ‘I use it in every work. It is has no variation – 8.7cm of white and coloured stripe, the measure of the linen I used originally.’ Instead of being the subject of the work, the stripes have become the means by which Buren recalibrates our experience of an entire scene.
Daniel Buren at the Emirates Palace Dome in Abu Dhabi in 2010 for the opening of ‘Daniel Buren and Alberto Giacometti Contemporary Works 1964-66’. © Daniel Suarez.
The renunciation of the studio was part of a general questioning of ‘everything from Cézanne to today about painting’. Having returned to France after some years in America, where he had absorbed the ideas of Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock, Pop Art and nascent Minimalism, Buren ‘was working with the idea of reducing painting to something extremely simple, ideally like an object which has nothing to say except, “I am a painting”.’ To this day, the stripes, now diversified by other geometrical shapes, whether painted over fabric, lawns, plywood or stone, or constructed out of glass, plastic sheets or brightly coloured photographic gels, are simply ‘a breath, a sign of action’.
There is a fury to his early work, such as the ‘affiches sauvages’ (wild posters), which owes more to politics than art history. As he describes it, the Parisian art establishment, on the cusp of the student revolts of May 1968, was moribund: ‘There was no way out except to blow up the whole system.’ In the streets he found freedom to act, but also the larger political and social context that is a significant part of his work. As he runs a stripe through a building that appears to cut it in two like a knife, or uses mirrors to distort our perceptions of a particular landscape, he is always reflecting upon history and power.
On the one hand, Buren’s work is anarchic and relinquishes control: ‘My works almost never have one point of view but hundreds of points of view. You can choose which you prefer.’ On the other, each installation is meticulously constructed according to highly complicated formulae. ‘I think the success of the work is a balance between the two extremes,’ says Buren.
This winter the Lisson Gallery presents a new large-scale installation and outdoor work by Buren. With his major permanent installation planned for the new Tottenham Court Road Station in 2016, this show provides an interim opportunity to encounter this genial magician’s prodigious space-changing imagination.
- Daniel Buren: One Thing To Another, Situated Works Lisson Gallery, London, 020 7724 2739, www.lissongallery.com,
23 Nov–14 Jan, 2012
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