Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
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Christopher Wool (b. 1955)


Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
signed, inscribed and dated 'WOOL 1990 W11' (on the reverse)
enamel on aluminium
108 x 72in. (274.5 x 182.8cm.)
Executed in 1990
Collection of the artist.
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.
Fredrik Roos Collection, Malmo.
Private Collection, Los Angeles.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006.
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Valencia, Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, 2006 (installation view illustrated, p. 11).
M. Thomas, 'Christopher Wool', in Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 28 November 1998 (illustrated).
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Christopher Wool - Cats in Bag, Bags in River, 1991. This exhibition later travelled to Bern, Kunsthalle Bern and Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein.
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 288, no. 65 (installation view illustrated, p. 62). This exhibition later travelled to Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art and Basel, Kunsthalle Basel.
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Francis Outred
Francis Outred

Lot Essay

With its huge scale and bold, direct delivery, Christopher Wool's Untitled is an iconic example of the artist's most important series of word-based paintings. Its raw, industrial nature is embodied in the drips which interrupt the stark order of the painted words, and by the dense layering of underpainting. This particular work is perhaps the best example of this within his, oeuvre, as upon closer inspection, another iconic slogan of Wools, RIOT, begins to emerge as a ghostly apparition through the surface of the white paint. The bold contrast of the black on white and the edgy line which defines the letter, enables them to come alive and become images in themselves. The multifaceted nature of the work recalls the peeling layers of posters, flyers and graffiti that Wool encountered plastered across the abandoned walls of New York. In an autobiographical twist, this distinctly personal aesthetic extends towards his choice of words as the artist mirrors his own name in the selection of 'Fool' as the main moniker thereby turning this work into a self-portrait of sorts. Executed during the most important period of the artist's career, other examples of Wool's large-scale word paintings such as this are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern in London.

The four large black letters that spell out the word 'FOOL' are tightly constrained by the edges of a flat, expansive aluminum support-one which embraces and enhances the utilitarian nature of the artist's chosen script. Wool's use of gargantuan lettering creates an intimidating atmosphere, and the claustrophobic nature of the composition, combined with his extensive use of underpainting, push the word FOOL out towards the viewer with a distinct sense of energy and force. This feeling of foreboding is heightened by the artist's carefully chosen typeface, selecting a font similar to the one adopted by the U.S. military after the Second World War. Wool matches the utilitarian nature of the design with the functional nature of its execution, and when combined with its physical size, creates a work which possesses a stark sense of authority. This tension between the physical properties of the work and its psychological effect lies at the heart of Wool's artistic practice as he subverts the conventions of language to render this work with a surreal sense of simplicity that belies its inward complexity.

The multi-dimensional nature of Untitled can be seen in the complex integration of technique and form that permeates the different layers of this work. The aluminium that Wool uses as his support gives the work an indefatigable aura to it - the weighty, solid and uniform surface imbues the work with an incredible sense of power and permanence. On top of this Wool lays down numerous layers of white paint and stenciled letters with an increasing sense of urgency as depicted by the drips and splashes of paint that he includes within his dramatic composition. This combination recalls the hurried work of the graffiti artists who tagged the skin of Wool's native Chicago during the unhappy decades of the 1970s and 1980s when widespread urban decay resulted in a lost generation of youth.

Wool's emergence as a painter in the early 1980s coincides with a period of soul searching within the art world about the state of painting. In his 1981 essay 'The End of Painting' the influential critic Douglas Crimp condemned the belief in painting and the investment in the human touch that was perceived to be crucial to maintaining painting's unique aura. It was into this environment that Wool began his exploration of the painterly process and the different techniques that could be used to expand its properties. Wool began using words as imagery as early as 1987 after seeing a brand new white truck with the words 'SEX' and 'LUV' scrawled across it. His early 'word' paintings were created during an intensely creative period for the artist and focused on words or phrases with multiple meanings. The effect was often only achieved when Wool broke them up in the composition of the painting. His 'AMOK' became 'AM OK' when enlarged to fit the scale of his canvas. Untitled with the large letters that spell out 'FOOL' also corresponds to the letters of the artists name and as such simultaneously pokes fun at the viewer, whilst at the same time creating a humorous self-portrait of the artist himself.

Functioning on a grand scale Untitled exudes a personal aura that is intrinsically linked to the post-Punk scene of New York. Wool's energy and attitude run through the very heart of this work with his arresting visual aesthetics projecting an urban air with undertones of a darker humour and meaning. The directness, both formally and aesthetically, with which Wool imparts his message results in the work becoming somehow unsettling. Yet at its heart these works are not only Wools response to his inner-city surroundings, but also to the complex debate about the content of modern painting.

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