French Painter, Sculptor, Conceptual Artist
Summary of Daniel Buren
Daniel Buren has predominately been painting 8.7cm-wide vertical stripes for half a century. However, unlike those by many of his contemporaries, Buren's stripes are political. Pasted on top of adverts, plinths, and installed antagonistically in royal courtyards, his work remains critical of a world construed of images and hierarchies of power. He has taken abstract painting, Conceptualism and Minimalism out of the galleries that these movements are so dependent on, democratizing abstract modernist art practices, which, particularly in the 1960s, relied heavily on controlled, 'pure' museum encounters. He often works with other artists and architects in an unusual fashion - not collaborating with existing creative, but rather inserting his work into a relationship with established architectural spaces. In this way he asserts the idea that no artist works completely independently, but rather exists in defined geographies and histories.
- Daniel Buren valued repetition, abstraction, and even boredom and made work that was non-representational, and even anti-representational. He believes that viewers' encounters with forms, shapes, and color, could be more meaningful than encounters with naturalistic or semiotic images and aims to allow a freedom of interpretation and enjoyment in his works.
- In French theorist Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle (1967) Debord writes that everyday social relations between people have been supplanted by relationships between images. This image-based life follows the regression of subjects under capitalism from being (humans) to having (commodities) to appearing (as representation). In his early work, Buren literally effaces images of commodities in advertising, by pasting over them with abstract (non-representational) stripes.
- The imperative of 'art for art's sake' is central to Buren's practice. This idea states that art exists in and for itself and its viewers, and doesn't need to be made in the service of emotional, moral or didactically politically ideals.
- Despite the above assertion, Buren's anti-establishment sensibilities found its way into his art, which often intentionally disrupts respected spaces, for example his gigantic hanging fabric in the middle of the Guggenheim's spiral, and his squat geometric striped columns in the courtyard of the Palais Royal in Paris.
Biography of Daniel Buren
Daniel Buren is an artist who likes to keep his personal life private and insists on the separation between his autobiography and his work. Consequently, he shares very little about his private life and we know almost nothing about his childhood, except that he was born in Boulogne-Billancourt in France in 1938.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Daniel Buren
- Daniel Buren: 1965-2015By Kamel Mennour
- Daniel Buren: UndergroundBy Tim Marlow
- Daniel BurenOur PickBy Guy Lelong
- Through the Square WindowsOur PickBy Adrian Searle / The Guardian / November 15, 2006
- In Conversation: Daniel Buren and Olafur EliassonBy Tim Griffin / Artforum / Mutual Art / May 2005
- Freedom to the Viewer! An Interview with Daniel BurenBy Karim Crippa / Art Basel
- The Guggenheim Outcast Who Laughed LastOur PickBy Linda Yablonsky / The New York Times / March 20, 2005
- Daniel Buren takes over the rooftop of Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse with 'Défini, fini, infini'By Jonathan Bell / Wallpaper* / June 27, 2014
- Whatever you do, don't call Daniel Buren's artworks 'installations'By Vladimir Belogolovsky / Metropolis / June 20, 2017
- Stephen Melville - Lecture - Daniel Buren: Becoming Painting
- "The Observatory of Light": Inside Daniel Buren's Project for Fondation Louis Vuitton
- Artist Talk - Daniel Buren - Walker Art CentreOur Pick
- Daniel Buren at Lisson Gallery London
- When Frank Gehry Meets Daniel Buren - A Talk Moderated by Hans Ulrich-Obrist