CHRISTOPHER WOOL (B. 1955)
CHRISTOPHER WOOL (B. 1955)
CHRISTOPHER WOOL (B. 1955)
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CHRISTOPHER WOOL (B. 1955)

Untitled

Details
CHRISTOPHER WOOL (B. 1955)
Untitled
signed, inscribed and dated 'WOOL 1993 (P174)' (on the reverse)
enamel on aluminum
90 x 69 1/2 in. (228.6 x 176.5 cm.)
Painted in 1993.
Provenance
Luhring Augustine, New York
Taschen Collection, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2017
Literature
H.W. Holzwarth, Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, pp. 135 and 419 (illustrated).
Exhibited
Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Christopher Wool, November 1993.
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art and Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, Christopher Wool, July 1998-January 1999, p. 189.
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Colección Taschen, October 2004-January 2005, p. 245.
Special notice

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A revered post-Conceptual artist known for his stenciled word paintings, Christopher Wool has refined a visual style since the late 1980s that continues to inspire new ways of thinking about art, text, expression, and the role of the artist. The monumental Untitled is a peerless abstract painting that shows Wool pushing his own artistic vocabulary to new limits. As part of the esteemed Taschen Collection, the present work was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1998), the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1999), and the Museo Nacional Centrode Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2004-2005). The painting is a foundational moment in the artist’s oeuvre that flows through the areas of perception and the history of painting. A towering work of beauty, detail, and rigor, Untitled encapsulates Wool’s decades-long goal to upend art and language. The iconic musician Richard Hell writes of discovering Wool’s paintings, “They felt aggressive but impassive and intelligent, while also often funny on levels” (R. Hell, “Christopher Wool: Part II,” Gagosian Quarterly, https://gagosian.com/quarterly/2020/03/05/christopher-wool-part-two/).

In the early 1990s, Wool began to silkscreen flower motifs, allowing his work to engage productively with decoration. Both austere and beautiful, Untitled is so densely layered as to almost obscure the floral shapes and create a Rorschach test or allover field of pigment. The center of the aluminum support approaches monochromatic black, while the natural forms begin to emerge as the pigment reaches the edges, as if the flowers are growing out of paint itself. At nearly seven-and-a-half feet by six feet, the viewer is absorbed by this play of forms and textures. Untitled refutes Jackson Pollock’s anxiety about pattern and decoration, allowing itself to intersect with the casual loveliness of a textile or wallpaper.

Yet the painting does not become something to be passively observed, and instead insists on opacity, or even mystery. It is filled with overlaps and stoppages that invite contemplation, not unlike the unexpected visual glitches of Andy Warhol’s supposedly perfect copies. As critic Bruce W. Ferguson writes, “Wool’s detached acts of painting still suggest a strong sensibility —a Warholian stylistic mark of a personality that impiously emerges through rendered anonymity” (B.W. Ferguson, “Patterns of Intent: Christopher Wool,” Artforum, September 1991, https://www.artforum.com/print/199107/patterns-of-intent-christopher-wool-33756). Wool’s almost cartoonish flower shapes, interconnected and expressive like a poem, become a language like his canonical word paintings, evincing a continuity in his career even as the artist effaces his own subjectivity.

Considering the centrality of the flower motif, one could connect Untitled to still life, which has always been an unexpectedly experimental genre. Still life has also served as a memento mori, which draws out the ephemerality and awareness of change in Wool’s work. Especially interesting might be Frida Kahlo’s flowers and fruits, which were often combined with text. In Viva La Vida (1954), Kahlo’s last painting before her death, the artist’s own writing fills the central watermelon like a final diary entry. There is a similar pathos in Warhol’s flower screenprints, themselves still lifes, but we might also consider his mystical 1984 Rorschach paintings, one of few series that was completely original and not reliant on preexisting material. Warhol painted one side of a canvas and folded it vertically, emulating the visual symmetry of the inkblot test. Interestingly, Wool’s father was a psychiatrist, suggesting not that he has been inspired by the tools of the discipline, but rather that he has likely always considered the depths of the psyche, even in his supposedly deadpan work.

Central to this psychic exploration is the graffitied past of New York in the 1980s and 1990s, which is manifest in the machinic loveliness of Untitled. In a rare interview, Wool recently described his experience of the city, “New York was, especially back then, just a gritty, gritty place, and I was interested visually in all of it” (C. Wool, quoted in R. Kennedy, “Christopher Wool on What Brought a ‘Sunday Painter’ Back to Life,” The New York Times, May 31, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/30/arts/design/christopher-wool-interview-photo-books.html). Returning to Richard Hell, it could be said that Wool created a new way of seeing the city itself, indeed that the city unconsciously relied on Wool’s imagery, as it has on Warhol’s, “I don’t think those streets looked like that before Christopher…What he got at was everything that we consciously or unconsciously find beneath notice or even contempt and edit out. It’s by his pictures that we’re made aware of it, the way we think of it now” (R. Hell, quoted in R. Kennedy, “Christopher Wool on What Brought a ‘Sunday Painter’ Back to Life,” The New York Times, May 31, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/30/arts/design/christopher-wool-interview-photo-books.html). In Untitled, Wool thereby gets at something true about the inner life of the city, a collision of street art, architecture, advertisements, and longed-for splashes of nature. It is as if he allows a flower to grow through the cracks of a slab of concrete.

Harnessing all the coolness of his signature word paintings while using unexpected motifs, Untitled is not merely a moment of respite, but rather another indication of the vigor of Wool’s practice and his continued status as one of the most important living artists. It is true when Peter Schjeldahl wrote in 2013, “Like it or not, Christopher Wool, now fifty-eight, is probably the most important American painter of his generation” (P. Schjeldahl, “Writing on the Wall,” New Yorker, 4 November 2013, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/11/04/writing-on-the-wall-3). His importance might be most forcefully felt in his influence on a new generation of painters, who have taken up his challenge to dissolve and rebuild painting altogether. With grace and strength, Untitled does just that.

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