Important Art by Daniel Buren
Daniel Buren's Affichages Sauvages (savage/wild posterings) is a series of temporary works created by the artist in Paris 1968 and 1969. Buren produced printed sheets of paper bearing his signature 8.7cm-wide stripes. He then posted them in public places, often over existing billboards or other fly-posted advertisements, or on public buildings.
Here Buren acted without the permission of the authorities, challenging the limits of creative freedom and freedom of expression. His techniques reformulated the city as an endless canvas and exhibition space, indicating his detachment from the traditional art system and market, and challenging the institutional conventions for the 'proper' viewing and appreciating of abstract art. Buren's minimalist vandalism of advertisements (pasting stripes over entire billboards) demonstrated a particular desire to shift the way that people engage with the city environment; making people aware of the bombardment of images in public in the service of consumerism, and literally disabling this capitalist relation. Buren himself was involved in the 1968 student protests at the time of making these 'wild posters' and the piece shares tactics of détournement commonly used by protestors -turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself.
The image used to represent this work is what Buren called a "photo-souvenir", something that documented his work in situ, which is the only place in which he believes it has an existence. He insists that the photograph is not the work of art, but only a "souvenir" of the original work, now lost. Taking abstract and conceptual work into the public realm using the DIY technologies of fly posters and advertisements remains an important, original, and highly influential practice, which can be seen in artists such as Jenny Holzer's posters a decade later.
Printed paper, temporary
Peinture Acrylique Blanches sur Rissu Raye Blanc et Vert
To create this work, Buren took a found standard piece of striped awning canvas (that also features his 8.7cm-wide stripes), and painted the outermost white stripes with white paint. The work is an important example of Buren's conception of 'Zero Degree Painting', in which he fundamentally challenged the premises on which painting is traditionally based.
In some senses, the work has the feel of a readymade, since Buren is simply displaying a pre-produced piece of awning canvas, of the type that was used to shade Parisian cafes. Initially, the work defies a relationship with painting, for example in the way that it is hung limply from the wall and not stretched over a frame like a traditional canvas. However, by presenting the fabric on the wall out of its original context, Buren draws the viewer's attention to the graphic qualities of the stripes, and to the indeterminate relationship between 'ground' and 'foreground' (is it white on green, or green on white?).
As art historian Guy Lelong further argues, "as soon as its outer stripes are painted over, the striped fabric necessarily evokes painting since it is directly confronted with it. A subtle dialectic is therefore established, since on the one hand the striped fabric evokes the painting partially covering it and, on the other, the form of the painted areas is 'dictated' by the ground's design."
White acrylic paint on white and green striped fabric - Collection of Alice and Lawrence Weiner, New York
In 1971, Buren was asked to take part in an exhibition at the Guggenheim, which invited artists to produce work in response to the building's unusual architecture, focusing on the central spiral designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Buren felt that Lloyd Wright's ascending design promoted a hierarchical 'top down' approach to the art on view, and his proposal was intended to challenge this relationship.
He produced a 20 x 10 meter canvas printed with blue and white stripes, which was hung in the middle of the rotunda and divided the space into two equal parts. Being closely integrated into the Guggenheim's architecture, Buren's work redefined it by blocking out the visitor's view of artworks on the other side of the rotunda as they travelled round it while going up the rotunda's ramp. Thus, his work uses easily perceived vertical stripes to produce a more horizontal viewing experience, with viewers being forced to move around each level carefully in order to see the work on show. As well as intervening in the existing gallery space, Peinture/Sculpture also aimed to challenge the viewer's traditional relationship with a work of art, as its placement forced the viewer to see the piece from every angle, taking up most of the visual space before being reduced to a single line when viewed from the side.
Art historian Guy Lelong argues that this relationship with the viewer became a key aspect of Buren's practice: "This double integration of the role of the viewer, leading him [sic] on the one hand to move around within the work instead of adopting a fixed point of view and, on the other, to visually perceive and therefore understand with a minimum of outside information the work's mechanisms, has remained a constant feature of Daniel Buren's work."
However, the public never saw the work, as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin argued that it obscured their own contributions, and under pressure, the Guggenheim removed it before the opening demonstrating the controversial character of Buren's site-specific stripe works.
Temporary work in situ - Guggenheim
For this project, Buren produced a 10cm-high length of red and white striped fabric, which he stuck around the top of the plinths of all the public statues in the city of Lyon. Called 'punctuations', the intervention aimed to draw the city-goer's attention to each sculptural monument, and also to the apparatus through which it is displayed.
As art historian and curator Ann Temkin argues, the pedestal of a public sculpture is intended to "stress the importance of a given painting or sculpture by means of furniture that is meant to go unnoticed". Temkin suggests that Buren uses the bold red and white stripes to draw the visitor's eye to this invisible furniture of display, both emphasizing and undermining its role. Buren's stripes emphasize the plinth's role as a facilitator of each statue, and the ideologies that the plinth literally upholds, or enables; sculptural monuments in a city can be read as contested sites of historical 'truths' as told by those in power at the time of their production.
Buren's intention is to force pedestrians into an encounter with both the statue or monument, and with his own artistic intervention, which highlights the political and artistic functions of the plinth itself. The fact that these 'punctuations' were spread throughout the city meant that viewers would often encounter versions of the work in different unexpected places, emphasizing the multi-faceted nature of the art experience in different environments.
Temporary work in situ - Lyon, France
Les Deux Plateaux
Les Deux Plateaux is a controversial large-scale installation in the inner courtyard of the Palais Royal in Paris. The space used to be a car park, and the work was designed to conceal a number of ventilation shafts in the ground. Buren divided the space into a grid and placed columns of various heights in the center of each square. The columns are covered with Buren's stripes in black and white.
The shape of the columns reflects those used in the classical architecture of the surrounding building, encouraging the viewer's eye to switch between the modern installation and classical architecture. Les Deux Plateaux encourages visitors to reflect on the concept of architectural space and plays with ideas of depth and perception; utility and decoration. Part of the installation also continues underground, where water runs around the bases of some of the columns, which intersect grills.
The work was controversial because some critics felt that the incorporation of a large-scale contemporary work of art would distract from the architecture of the space, and that Buren's unserious striped columns were improper for a royal space. However, this is part of the meaning of the work. By inserting his work into a seat of royalty and subsequently of government, he encourages viewers to consider the bureaucratic functions of the Palais Royal and how art relates to these functions. As the historian Wim Denslagen puts it, the success of Les Deux Plateaux is "due to the fact that Buren, as a Marxist, was in full revolt against the establishment."
The work prompted a debate about how contemporary art should be allowed to interact with historical architecture - a debate that continues to be relevant to this day.
Site-specific installation - Palais Royal, Paris
Défini, Fini, Infini
In 2014, Buren was invited to create an installation on the roof of the Cité Radieuse, also known as the 'Unité d'Habitation', a building in Marseille designed by modernist architect Le Corbusier. The work is a key example of Buren intervening in spaces designed and created by others, and creating dialogues with other creative practitioners and histories.
Buren took over this liminal space and turned it into an environment in which visitors were encouraged to re-examine their encounter with both Le Corbusier's building, and with the city visible on every side. The installation is an important example of a shift in Buren's later work in which he began to incorporate other elements alongside his signature stripes, such as colored glass and mirrors.
In an interview, Buren compared the setting to his important work at Palais Royal: "It's like the Palais Royale, an eighteenth century building. There's a risk of being overshadowed by a masterpiece." However, Le Corbusier's architectural vision is in stark contrast to the Palais Royale, with the architect famously designing residential buildings towards a socialist utopia.
Buren has claimed that his work is never autonomous, arguing that it cannot exist without its context. Défini, Fini, Infini explores the concept of site-specificity, emphasizing Buren's radical point of view: "Maybe I am the only artist who insists on this condition because all the art that was produced from the beginning of time is declared to be autonomous. And for good reason, because if the artist does not believe in his work's autonomy it is not that interesting. But I take the liberty and risk to say - my work is not autonomous. My work is a part of everything around it and it has the power to transform everything around it."
Temporary installation - Cité Radieuse, Marseille