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Ted Stamm

His paintings, drawings and performative works show Ted Stamm's (1944–1984) constant examination of the environment of his time and his tireless experimental way of working. He developed a minimalist visual language that frequently appears strictly geometric and simple, while at the same time taking great latitudes. He also often included the architecture of exhibition spaces in his concepts.

Ted Stamm, January 1980. Photo: Abby Robinson

I am interested in making a work which is read as a totality in its situation and remains confrontational by perceiving its nature and installational effects upon the actual exhibition space.

- Ted Stamm

While studying at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, Stamm turned towards painting. Soon, under the influence of the late Ad Reinhardt, he painted over early works from his student days completely with black paint. Black paint, or at least a very reduced palette, was to remain a central creative means in his pictorial work.

1978

Studio, 101 Wooster St, 1974

There were further experiments with black monochrome in the early 1970s, extended by chance-based compositional concepts, for example in the 'Chance' series. Of outstanding importance in Stamm's œuvre, however, is subsequently the Wooster series, on which he worked throughout his career.

Ted Stamm, 78-W-7D (Wooster), 1978, silver pencil and graphite on paper, 55.8 x 76.2 cm

The form he developed in 1974 is at once simple and complex: a triangle adjoining the left side of a square or, depending on how you look at it, a square overlaid by a wider, equilateral triangle. Both basic shapes merge into a single form, the 'Wooster' shape, usually painted in white and black. Stamm often has a painted band running around the edge of the shape, but rarely completely. This painterly exploration of the shape can be easily traced in the viewer.

Ted Stamm, 78-RBW-2 (Wooster), 1978, graphite on paper, 55.8 x 76.2 cm

Works of the stretched variant 'Lo Wooster' – the title hints at this – Stamm preferred to hang low, almost to the floor. Such a presentation results in a stunning effect: the work becomes part of the architecture of the exhibition space.

Ted Stamm. Paintings 1972–1980, The Clocktower, MoMA PS1, New York, 1981

The installation ensures the implied extension of the work’s elements and implies a relational weight to the floor. These works have maintained their frontality and the inherent materials of painting (support, canvas, paint), because it is here where I feel my research can extend the language and possibilities of painting.

- Ted Stamm

The direct interaction with the space prompted Stamm to adapt the shape of the canvas to the motif depicted. With the Shaped Canvas, he followed a concept of abandoning the traditional form of the rectangle, as artists such as Kenneth Noland or Frank Stella had already done at that time.

Ted Stamm. Dodger Ptgs., Galerie December, Düsseldorf, 1975

Starting in the mid-1970s, Stamm also used the design element of Shaped Canvases for the 'Dodger' series. The relatively complex 'Dodger' shape is inspired by the shape of a baseball field and named after the baseball team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, and allows a multitude of variations: Over most of the picture's width, it describes a flat arc on the upper right side, which usually tapers to a point on the right. On the left, irregular, polygonal shapes are added in each case, with unexpected fractures and voids. Here, too, Stamm mostly uses colours black and white colours, and he in turn creates new forms by painting with fields and lines.

Ted Stamm, Untitled (Dodger), 1976, charcoal and graphite on paper, 17.8 x 29.8 cm

Ted Stamm, DGR-30-1 (Dodger), 1976, graphite on paper, 55.8 x 76.2 cm

Studio, 101 Wooster St, 1983

Obviously, Ted Stamm was fascinated by speed. This is apparent in variations on the titles of his works, such as 'C-Dodger' – a reference to the Concorde supersonic aircraft. Stamm designed a reduced triangular or pentagonal form with or without a bend at the end of the 1970s with 'Zephyr', named after the high-speed train of the same name. 'Zephyr' finally shows, even more clearly than Dodger, a direction of movement through the hard arrow shape alone, which the view and spatial impression can hardly escape.

Ted Stamm, ZCT-001 (Zephyr Concorde), 1981, oil on canvas, 66 x 457 cm

The aspect of movement and speed can thus be experienced here through the view. Ted Stamm also performed actions earlier, such as his 'Bike Ride' performance from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 1971, which follow this idea.

Ted Stamm, Bicycle Ride, 1971, performance, Brooklyn Bridge, New York

With 'Designators', Stamm turned to street art from 1976, building on his previous work. Before graffiti, especially in New York City, became popular in the 1980s and began to shape the image of many districts, Stamm sprayed a 'Dodger' shape with a stencil in public places, usually with black paint.

Apparently Stamm visited these places several times: the second time, if the marking was still there, he used the same stencil and sprayed over the shape in silver, the third time he sprayed a black "T" on it, the fourth time finally a silver "T" over the black one.

Ted Stamm, Designator (Dodger), 1977, New York

Ted Stamm, Designator (Dodger), 1977, New York

Designator stencil, 1978

In the course of time, Stamm made pictorial additions and thus kept the image in a dynamic process. With the 'Wooster Designators', he extended this concept to the (public) space. He pasted small 'Wooster' shapes onto the rear ends, bumpers and number plates of cars and added a date stamp. About ten days later, should he have found the car again, a second stamping followed.

Designator (Lo Wooster), 1980, C-print 28 x 35.5 cm

Within the period marked in this way, each of these 'Wooster' forms has thus been on the move, may even have left the city and in this way would have ‘come among the people’. Thanks to the artist's documentation through photographs, these ephemeral 'Designator' actions have been preserved.

Designator (Lo Wooster), 1980, C-print 28 x 35.5 cm

A documentary character also lies in Stamm's series of works 'Tags' from the late seventies and early eighties. Found garment tags were worked on as drawings or yet painterly by visitors to his studio as well as by Stamm himself. Both sketchbooks were dated and thus documented the exchange of both counterparts.

Ted Stamm, UT (Tag), 1977, graphite and handtag on paper, 20.3 x 13 cm

Ted Stamm, UT (Green Tag), 1979, lacquer and handtag on paper, 14 x 10.2 cm

Thus, Stamm only partially holds the authorship of the 'Tags', just as he largely releases the respective image creation from his control. This conceptual approach, which seems so contrary to the minimalist hard-edge pictures of the 'Wooster' series, was nevertheless always part of his research and other series of works. In spite of all his openness to different art forms and media, painting remained the core of his work.

My major focus has been in the area of painting, other area[s] I have participated in are drawing, installation, street-works, and artist books. All in supporting or extending roles to my major activity.

- Ted Stamm

After his early death – he died of heart disease at the age of 39 – Ted Stamm left behind a considerable body of work.

101 Wooster Street studio, New York, 1975

He has explored problems of visual representation and perception and approached these problems conceptually through a variety of drawing experiments.His drawing work reveals, and this is remarkable, many painterly aspects with regard to considerations of paint, the image carrier and the situation in space.

Ted Stamm's pictures react to pictures; they want to give answers to the conditions of architectures. His works evoke the formal as well as the performative expansion of his artistic sphere of effects or by incorporating the aspect of movement and speed.

Ted Stamm, SoHo, New York 1983. Photo: Maryse Alberti

[My work] represents no beginning and no ending. This is my life.

- Ted Stamm

Ted Stamm's works have been shown, among other places, in the following solo exhibitions: The Clocktower, MoMA PS1, New York, NY, USA (1981), Berlin Wall Project, Berlin (1979), MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY, USA (1978), Artists Space, New York, NY, USA (1975). He participated at Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany (1977), curated by Manfred Schneckenburger..

Works by Ted Stamm are represented , among others, in the following collections: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, USA; Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France; Hall Art Collection, Derneburg, Germany; Reading, Vermont Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, USA; Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ, USA; The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT, USA; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA, and Western Australia Art Gallery, Perth, Australia.

If not otherwise stated, all photographs by Ted Stamm
© Ted Stamm Archive, 2022

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