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.
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."
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.