On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Image World: Property from a Private American Collection


signed, inscribed and dated 'WOOL 2000 (S153)' (on the stretcher bar)
enamel on linen
66 x 48 in. (167.6 x 121.9 cm.)
Executed in 2000.
Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Vienna, Secession, Christopher Wool, September-November 2001 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Bursting onto the scene in the 1980s, Christopher Wool has spent his career thoroughly investigating the nature of painting by pushing the boundaries of this age-old medium through updated processes and an infusion of punk aesthetic. Untitled is a vigorous example of the artist’s innovative compositions that clearly shows the progression of his practice into the 21st century. Utilizing silkscreens made from his own previous imagery, Wool combines mechanical reproduction with the effervescent qualities of paint sprayed directly from a can. When he first began this hybrid process, the mixture of printing and painting signaled a new mode for the artist about which curator Katherine Brinson noted, "[Wool] would take a finished picture, use it to create a silkscreen, and then reassign the image wholesale to a new canvas. Simple as this transfer might seem, it effects a distinct metamorphosis… This strategy of self-appropriation marked a new phase in Wool’s practice in which original mark-making, tentatively permitted, coexists with works that deny the hand entirely” (K. Brinson, “Trouble is My Business”, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 46). Converting the anarchy of drips, splashes, and sprays into a controllable, composable element allowed for a new level of visual and conceptual intrigue within the picture plane. By creating a reproducible symbol of active, expressive painting, Wool has been able to dissect and discuss the history of action painting as well as its tenacious hold on the American artistic psyche.

Over five feet high, the white rectangle that makes up the current work is spattered and sprayed with orange and black in an energetic amalgam of graffiti-like linework and halftone reproductions. Though the canvas upon which Wool works is oriented vertically, Untitled exhibits an air of anti-gravity as the forms float and merge within the confines of the picture. Except for the drips that seep from the energetic swirl of orange in the piece’s center, there is little to formally hold the composition to traditional modes of viewing.

Curator Neville Wakefield reflected on this lack of ground plane, noting: “Dispense with hierarchy, dispense with composition and colour, dispense with pictorial order, they seem to say. Yet, paradoxically, from this confrontation with painting’s supposed civility, Wool makes an elegant and formidable case for it being alive and well” (N. Wakefield, “Christopher Wool: Paintings Marked by Confrontation and Restraint”, Elle Décor, March 1999, p. 59).

By employing a mixture of silkscreens and exuberant spray-painting, Wool deftly navigates a conversation about the role of the artist’s hand in expressive abstractions. His oeuvre has always been part of a discussion about the overriding power of Abstract Expressionism in American art, both as a style and as a symbol of the power and chaotic nature of mid-century Modernist painting. By copying and reprinting his own indelible marks as silkscreened imagery, Wool remakes the active brushstrokes and chance splatters as symbols of painting itself. Echoing the semiotic ideas set forth by earlier works like Brushstrokes, 1966-1968 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) by Roy Lichtenstein, Wool questions the notion that an expressive painting’s true power lies in its inability to be reproduced and in its inimitable energy. Instead, taking the kinetic motion as a symbol, the artist can instill its vivacity into his compositions at will.

“…This strategy of self-appropriation marked a new phase in Wool’s practice in which original mark-making, tentatively permitted, coexists with works that deny the hand entirely.”Katherine Brinson

Known for his iconic word paintings inspired by stenciled graffiti, Wool’s practice has always had a relationship with the ideas around reproducibility and authorship. In the 1990s, when he first began to use silkscreens in his work, floral imagery and decorative patterns mixed with smudged paint and dripping spray. Layering clouds of solvent-erased paint over prints rendered from found screens, the artist created a visual dynamism that teetered on the border between representation and full abstraction. In Untitled, as with much of his work in the twenty-first century, we can see that the non-representational mode has completely taken over. Curator Anne Pontégnie explains, “The silkscreen process allows Wool to play with scale, repetition, and rhythm. At the same time, it makes all of his work available as a repertory of form. At the heart of his corpus, the question of originality has entirely disappeared. Thus the same form… can be represented it its own right, then reproduced by screen-printing without affecting its ‘status’” (A. Pontégnie, “At the Limits of Painting” in H.W. Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, New York 2008, p. 314).

Through his process of appropriating his own dynamic marks as sources for new screens, Wool crafts a visual vocabulary that can be twisted, enlarged, and reused without seeming repetitive nor losing any of its initial energy. Enlarging a simple splatter to outsized proportions creates a hybrid image that revels in its initial disorder while still remaining beholden to the orderly series of dots on the screen. Errors in printing, sharp edges as a result of masking, and the dichotomy of fluid paint versus layered duplication all serve to enhance Wool’s canvas and invite deeper looking by the audience. What at first may appear a hodgepodge of random forms becomes a densely-layered conglomeration of different techniques all working together in vibrant unity.

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