Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'WOOL '87 UNTITLED (P42)' (on the reverse)
alkyd and flashe on aluminum and steel
72 x 48 in. (182.8 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1987.
Luhring Augustine & Hodes Gallery, New York
Galerie Jean Bernier, Athens
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 15 November 1995, lot 280
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and the Institute of Contemporary Art, The BiNational: Art of the Late 80s, September-November 1988.
Further details
“One could superficially interpret Wool’s paintings as parodies of Pollock’s seriousness, as a cynical re-enactment of action painting utilizing an impoverished bag of tricks hijacked from vandalism. But then one would be missing the point. No, Wool embraces and engages action painting as his primary source and he then manipulates it, with the cool reflection of a Pop artist or Dada collagist, creating art that is both intense and reflective, physical and mechanical, unconscious and considered, refined in technique and redolent of street vernacular, both high and low. But despite the many apparent contradictions, the work is singular, strong, organic and as deep as it might appear shallow” (G. O’Brien, “Apocalypse and Wallpaper,” in H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 9).

Emerging as a painter in the 1980s, Wool began his exploration of the painterly process in an art world which questioned the state of painting. In his 1981 essay “The Death of Painting” the art critic Douglas Crimp condemned the belief in painting and the necessity of the human touch that was perceived to be crucial to maintaining painting’s unique aura. In the midst of this period of questioning, Wool had found his stride building upon the multiple legacies of American Post-War painterly abstraction, Pop Art and Minimalism actively addressing the challenges facing the contemporary artist of today.

Stumbling upon a workman in the stairwell of his New York apartment building in the late 1980s, “Wool observed [him] applying this tawdry embellishment to the halls outside of his loft and recalls being fascinated by the considerable challenge of lining up the patterns successfully” (K. Brinson, ed., Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 38). The paint rollers the workman was using were available at any hardware store in varying decorative motifs – a common, more economical choice for décor than wallpaper. In this everyday tool Wool recognized a ready-made mechanical means of creation and with a Pop oriented mentality, the possibility of embracing multiplicity in his composition without any inherent meaning or association.

In Untitled an inky black trellis motif is painted on a stark white ground. As the bold looping curlicue of the decorative motif fills the entire composition, the incomplete forms along the right and lower edges give the impression that the pattern continues beyond the confines of the aluminum panel. Heavily influenced by Jackson Pollock, and others such as his professor at Sarah Lawrence college , Richard Pousette-Dart, Wool fully embraces the Abstract Expressionist concept of all over painting – the dedication to filling the full extent of the canvas.

Wool’s use of the rollers was a seminal step that brought his technique closer to Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings. “Wool’s work shares Pop Art’s affection for the vulgar and the vernacular, and in form it recalls Pop’s graphic economy of means, iconic images and depersonalized mechanical registration” (M. Grynsztejn, “Unfinished Business” in A. Goldstein, Christopher Wool, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 266). Despite the mechanical process employed in Warhol’s screened imagery, inconsistencies due to human error and chance occurrences were unavoidable. Similarly, minor irregularities appear in Untitled – a slight slip of the roller, drips and varying thicknesses of paint. These indiscretions challenge the boundaries of the proscribed pattern. In Untitled Wool successfully addresses the conflicts inherent to contemporary image making and simultaneously unites abstract and figurative, painting and printing as well as process and the final product.

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Kevie Yang
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