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


signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'WOOL 1995 UNTITLED (P246)' (on the reverse)
enamel on aluminum
108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm.)
Executed in 1995.
Private collection, Greece
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., IVAM Institut Valencià d'Art Modern and Musée d'art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg, 2006, p. 81 (illustrated).
H. W. Holzwarth and E. Banks, eds., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 182 (illustrated).
Cologne, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Neue Bilder Neue Räume, March-April 1996.
Cologne, Museum Ludwig; Porto, Museu Serralves, Christopher Wool: Porto – Köln, November 2008-December 2009, p. 31 (illustrated).
London, Lévy Gorvy, Ride the Wild: Oehlen West Wool, October-November 2019.
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Lot Essay

“With the paintings the inspiration is really internal. I get inspiration from the work and from the process of working. Painting is a visual medium, there to be looked at. For me, like listening to music, it’s an emotional experience.” Christopher Wool

As one of the most revolutionary standard-bearers for new modes of painting in the 1980s through to the present day, Christopher Wool’s practice has been continually marked by compelling combinations of commercial techniques and exuberant mark-making. Known for his wry word paintings as well as his process-focused abstractions, the artist’s ability to merge Pop sensibilities with the overpowering history of American abstraction has made him one of the more astute observers of painting’s trajectory in recent years.

Combining painterly finesse with utilitarian reproduction, works like Untitled are peak examples of the layered dynamism evident throughout Wool’s oeuvre. By introducing disparate visual elements that grapple for control, the artist creates a tension that brings about a new inquiry into the art form. Throwing aside the prescribed notions of traditional painting, Wool brings a sense of rowdy experimentalism to his practice that seeks to upend compositional complacency. Curator Neville Wakefield has reflected about Wool’s paintings: “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 eschewing traditional compositions and Modernist investigations into the purity of media, Wool breaks from the expected in order to more fully embrace all that painting has to offer. Not content to accept the much-touted death of the artform in the last few decades of the twentieth-century, the painter sought new ways to update and stimulate a slumbering giant as the millennium drew to a close.

Rendered in black and white enamel on the artist’s signature aluminum substrate, Untitled is a riot of mark making subdued only by its limited color palette. Several layers are visible as they leak out from below, but the primary focus is a smeared, dripping body of wide, white strokes that obscures much of the artist’s investigations below. Joshua Decter, writing for Artforum the year the present work was composed, noted, “Wool offers us access to a world where things are layered to the point of implosion, where iconographic elements are built up only to virtually fall apart” (J. Decter, “Christopher Wool: Luhring Augustine Gallery”, Artforum, 34, September 1995, p. 89).

“I often want a painting to feel like it is the result of a certain process….a process that was not simply the painting/picturing process of putting together a formalistically successful painting. I’ve made paintings that were ‘pictures’ created merely by the act/process of painting over a previous image.” Christopher Wool

What at first seems to be a mass of expressive brushwork is revealed to be a composite of several different styles laid upon each other. Using the idea of the palimpsest, reading one work through another, one must visually scrape away the white overcoat in order to see the jumble of thin black lines sprayed in curls and arcs. Journeying further through this second layer, one delves
further to find evidence of Wool’s enamorment with silkscreening processes and the addition of reproducible imagery in his oeuvre. Blocks of patterns, including a field of small flower motifs and a mass of dots and circles, appear decidedly sharp and fully-formed as they flit amidst the artist’s grander gestures. These squares of recognizable shapes come from figurated rollers that the artist bought from hardware stores. Constructed for repetitive patterns of the kind used in architectural adornment, each block is meant to repeat continuously. Used in a single or double roll, the result is akin to affixing a small sheet of wallpaper to the composition. Most importantly, manufactured in a variety of arrangements, these readymade blooms of imagery are devoid of the artist’s hand which is decidedly at odds with the layers of paint above them. Visible around the edges of the white brushwork in tandem with these designs, large cartoon-like flora made with silkscreens emerge from the chaos of the composition. Using the rollers and screens in conjunction with his brush and spraycan sets up a dichotomy that pits artistic gesture against mass-produced designs that problematizes the idea of authorship and intent.

Coming into his own in the mid-1980s, Wool was explicitly aware of the prevailing notion that the art of painting had reached its apogee. Some, like critic Douglas Crimp, even pronounced it dead. However, the young artist was reticent to give up on the artform and therefore looked to other manners in which to continue its evolution. Abstract works like the current lot therefore deal not only with exploring new visual formats but also with the legacy of Abstract Expressionism and its dominance over the American art world throughout the mid-20th century. As Katherine Brinson notes, “excruciatingly aware of the taboo status of gestural mark-making as an index of self-expression, Wool was nonetheless compelled to explore whatever space was left within abstraction for a critical practice” (K. Brinson, “Trouble is My Business”, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 37). By combining elements of mechanical reproduction like stencils and screenprinting into his practice, Wool was able to sidestep purely expressive abstraction in favor of a more process-oriented approach. Motifs and symbols used in other areas of visual culture suddenly appear beneath his emphatic spray- and brushwork, confusing the picture plane and thwarting a purely emotional read.

Wool’s process is one of improvisation and experimentation within the confines of the frame. Rather than referring to subject matter directly or creating a discernible scene, the artist often reacts in the moment to minute details of the medium itself. “With the paintings the inspiration is really internal. I get inspiration from the work and from the process of working. Painting is a visual medium, there to be looked at. For me, like listening to music, it’s an emotional experience.” (C. Wool, interview in “Crosstown Crosstown, artist talk at DCA,” 2003). Setting up a backdrop of silkscreened patterns or repetitive motifs, Wool sprays paint or wields a thick brush in an effort to maintain a close relationship with the work. Reworking, removing, and reapplying his paint through a variety of means, the artist builds up smudgy haloes of pigment that cloud some sections of the plane while totally obscuring others. The initial process itself is carefully considered, but the painterly actions take place in unrepeatable instants that remain in eye-catching bursts or are obliterated once again by Wool’s solvent-drenched rag. The mixture of hard-edged shapes from screens and stencils fights with these brushy incursions to form a visual battlefield pulsating with energy.

Though he studied painting in a formal capacity at the New York Studio School for several years, it was only after spending time in the world of underground music and film that Wool re-emerged as a fully-fledged painter. Having immersed himself in the No Wave and punk aesthetic of 1980s New York, his interests and approach to painting were often at odds with the prevailing culture. Wool noted, “I often want a painting to feel like it is the result of a certain process….a process that was not simply the painting/picturing process of putting together a formalistically successful painting. I’ve made paintings that were ‘pictures’ created merely by the act/process of painting over a previous image” (C. Wool, cited in H.W. Holzwarth, Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 160). Keeping his distance from the dominant trends, the artist carved out a niche for himself that was as much interested in viewing painting as an evolving artform as it was in reinvigorating tired tropes and reassessing learned habits in an effort to shake his practice loose from the cobwebs of history.

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