“[T]he bands are 8.7 cm wide, alternating between white and colored, and are placed over internal and external surfaces: walls, fences, display windows, etc. . . . I record that this is my work for the last four years, without any evolution or way out.”
— Daniel Buren, 1970
The 1960s were a time of great political and social activism worldwide. Many artists were questioning the nature of art and its relationship to the marketplace and traditional institutions. Some were experimenting with new forms and concepts that broke with long established rules and expectations.
In September 1965, Buren was visiting a Paris market to buy canvas when he noticed a striped awning fabric with vertical bands, each 8.7 cm (approximately 3.5 inches) wide, which were alternately white and colored. Buren began using this fabric to create his own art, but he gradually realized that paintings in this reduced state had no intrinsic value. He had stripped painting down to its core, or “degree zero.” The striped fabric now derived its value from the place where it was exhibited. This observation led the artist to use the stripes as a “visual tool” whose function is to reveal, through its placement, the characteristics of the site in which it is displayed (Guy Lelong, Daniel Buren, trans. David Radzinowicz [Paris: Flammarion, 2002], p. 37). By replacing his canvases with standard awning fabrics, Buren also questioned the idea of a personal artistic style.
For his first solo exhibition in 1968, Buren glued white-and-green-striped material to the outside door of the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan, Italy (Anne Rorimer, “From Painting to Architecture,” Parkett 66 , p. 62). The same year Buren pasted 200 striped posters on Paris billboards and other spaces reserved for advertising. His action at once protested the proliferation of advertising and testified to the boundlessness of art when released from the confines of the gallery and museum. For Buren, the work of art should not be limited to traditional forms. Art can happen in the streets: as a part of everyday life. Buren has used his “visual tool” in and on a variety of interior and exterior sites all over the world.
Buren’s installation Wall of Paintings in the Guggenheim’s High Gallery is a collection of twenty of his striped canvases dating from 1966 to 1977. Hung “salon-style,” from floor to ceiling, with differing spaces between them, the canvases are presented in an unconventional way. Buren’s placement of the works challenges expectations and emphasizes the museum environment itself.