In the late 1960s, strange markings started appearing on walls and gates of Paris, a city in the midst of violent upheaval. The markings were always stripes of exactly 8.7-centimeter width, and always alternated white with a color, say, blue or black. Soon, the same stripes appeared on bus stops all over Los Angeles and in Tokyo. Before long, the art world had taken note, and two years later, the rogue poster artist—Daniel Buren—was hanging a 66-foot-tall banner of stripes in the atrium of the Guggenheim Museum.
If that sounds like a meteoric rise, it’s because it was—especially for an artist who has spent his career refining a singular visual tool. He calls them affichages sauvages—savage posters—and they’ve appeared on Hermes scarfs and the vast interior courtyard of the Palais Royal. Buren has experimented with numerous other mediums: Last year, as the fifth artist to participate in the Monumenta series, he installed a canopy of brightly colored lenses that transformed the floor of the Grand Palais into a raucous light show. Still, he continually returns to his signature stripe, which he uses as a unit of measurement, a standard way to frame and call attention to space.
This week, Buren returns to his roots with Electricity Paper Vinyl, a show at the Bortolami Gallery in New York. The 74-year-old artist will unveil new affichages sauvages that, thanks to the help of textile company Brochier Soieries, glow with fiber-optic-enabled luminescence. "After having worked with flags, linen, silk, and other fabrics, [Brochier] came to me six or seven years ago asking if I wanted to try to use a very new technique they were developing using optical fibers as a material instead of cotton or silk," Buren tells Co.Design. "I did a first prototype and then continued developing other possibilities to push the game and see what this new technique could give." A recent show at Lisson Gallery, in London, had the artist experimenting with radiance and color, but the works at Bortolami are an entirely new technical paradigm.
To accompany the show, Buren’s posters were plastered across Manhattan. But as he explained to me, a lot has changed in the 50 years since he began making the interventions. "In 1968, if you came across the posters in the street, you might ask yourself: What is that? Or, what is it doing here? Or, what is the meaning of such a thing, if any?" he says. "In 2013, if you see the posters in the streets of Paris, for example, many people would say ‘It’s a Buren.’ The questioning is broken." On the other hand, he adds, "This gives a new reading, and I am interested in that. . . If you hear or play a piece of music from centuries ago, even if you recognize who wrote the work, you are listening, in fact, each time, to a ‘new’ work."
Check out Electricity Paper Vinyl at Bortolami Gallery starting January 10.