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Daniel Buren went in search of the zero degree of painting. The result? A sequence of vertical strips.
© DB - SABAM, Belgium 2019

Daniel Buren
1 Element, 1991

Where is the bottom line for painting?

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Quite a pressing question for a new generation of artists during the turbulent 1960s.

In the art world too, some ‘fixed values’ at the time were - permanently? - jeopardised. From 1966 onwards, for example, Daniel Buren contributed to the criticism of traditional painting that echoed on all sides. The artist scarcely deviated from the radical answer he came up with at the time, for over half a century, if at all.

Buren’s ‘degree zero’ of painting looks like a rigid visual formula. We see a sequence of vertical stripes that are each 8.7cm wide. They always have identical measurements and are created in two alternating colours. So, we wouldn’t immediately refer to Buren’s art as exuberant. The fact that the artist found inspiration for ‘his stripes’ on a Parisian textile market is equally prosaic. So, anyone who has held up his work against the canopy of a Parisian bistro is not entirely wrong.

No emotion, no illusion, no representation and not even a workshop. No matter how small-minded it may sound, according to Buren it is just about broadening of our field of vision. Because only monotonous stripes can be seen, they divert our gaze to the environment in which they were installed. What role does it play? Is it neutral? Not without reason are Buren’s stripes very much dependent on their medium, whether it is canvas, a wall, posters, the bodywork of trams and buses or... a plexiglass plate against a fuchsia wall in a bank building.

Does the wall matter? To what extent does a different context or architecture change our view of it? How independent is this work? Where does it begin and where does it end?