Over the decades of his career however, whilst the motif remains, something changed in emphasis. His 2013 shop window displays for Louis Vuitton emphasised a tie between Vuitton and Buren as brands, in which it is no longer emphatic that one thing is interchangeable for another, since a brand covers its objects in a generality. It’s difficult to care whether one Vuitton window display is interchangeable with another. This drift shows the extent to which Buren’s earlier work had depended not on an undoing of the specificity of the artwork, not really as a counterpoint to the dignity of an artwork, but on the tension between an emphatic specificity of a particular example and the generality given in its interchangeability which was always a condition of art.
Buren’s show last month Buren: a fresco (une fresque) at the BoZar in Brussels offers in place of a display of his historic works which no longer exist, a group of artworks of other artists which have been significant to him. He shows in the first room the blank shape of each artwork set against his stripes, and then in each further room is a selection of these artworks set in a dense pattern of shadowed shapes of works situated elsewhere in the show, a dense salon hang presented as a ghost. The result mirrors Buren’s concern with the interchangeability of works of art in the dialectic of presence and absence which rings in his earlier work. Any given artwork can be present in its absence, substituted for a shadow of its shape, but with this play the inverse is presented that each artwork is more emphatically presented in the particularity of its relation to the absence it shows with its veil. What is devalorised is the sublimation of a raised puffery of a falsely positive aura. But far from cooly marking the reiteration of a historic stage in the desublimation of the work of art, Buren offers here the richness of an art that emphatically lodges what is most singular in its relation to what is not there, in the generality of a substitutive regime.