World-renowned French artist Daniel Buren (b. 1938, Boulogne-Billancourt) is acclaimed for his contribution to conceptual art over the past 50 years. As an artist, his practice borders sculpture, installation and painting. Critically, he explores the relationship between art and the framework that continues to structure how we perceive art. Through his practice, Buren particularly challenges our customary ideas about where art is displayed and how it is understood. 

Buren first developed a critique of the art establishment in Paris in the 1960s. He is best known from this era as a founding member of the BMPT (his surname initial alongside fellow artists Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni). The series of four exhibitions that BMPT presented—the ‘manifestations’ (1967)—questioned typical social values regarding artists and their art. For example, the authority of the Parisian salons that had governed the art world for centuries. The four men also created work that disregarded the importance of authorship, often implying that one artist’s paintings were painted by another. This notion increased the value of the artistic object itself, rather than its novelty. 

The tone of the BMPT philosophy was arguably the biggest influence on Buren’s own  practice. In 1965, he first developed the distinctive artistic motif of exploring the relationship between a work’s medium and its support. He cut fabric into 8.7cm-wide vertical stripes and attached them to unconventional surfaces, objects and spaces. His installation spaces of choice now range from window frames to the cylindrical structures in the renowned courtyard of the Palais-Royal, central Paris (in Les Deux Plateaux (1986)). Buren describes his onsite practice as in situ, as he takes a particular building or place and considers its unique story and context to create his vertically-striped geometric designs. 

The stripes in these works typically alternate between white and a bright colour, sometimes creating an optical illusion. Buren also often incorporates light and an array of textures such as Plexiglas into his works to enhance their spatial forms. He has documented each of his explorations and archived this documentation as ‘photo-souvenirs’. 

The 1990s saw Buren’s work become increasingly architectural, employing fencing and grids. During this decade he developed the use of stained-glass window. The bright yet translucent colours in his site-specific installation Monumenta (2012) reflect these explorations in the nave of the Grand Palais in Paris.

Buren’s in situ work culminated in his representation of France at the 1986 Venice Biennale, where he was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion award for the best national pavilion that year.  Since the Biennale pavilion, Buren has completed over eighty international public art works, including Diamonds and Circles, works in situ (2017), completed for the Tottenham Court Road tube station in London. 

Over his career, Buren has received a number of important awards including the International Award for the Best Artist, Stuttgart, Germany (1991), and the Grand Prix National de Peinture, France (1992). He has been the subject of retrospectives at the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (2016); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2005); and the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2002).

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Photo by Claude Truong-Ngoc / CC BY-SA