Overview

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Details
Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
Blue Fool
signed, titled and dated 'WOOL 1990 BLUE FOOL' (on the reverse)
enamel on aluminumm
108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 1990.
Provenance
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991
Literature
B. Ferguson, "Christopher Wool," The Contemporary, Summer 1998, p. 5 (illustrated in color).
M. Thomas, "Christopher Wool Gives Texture, Meaning to Writing on the Wall," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 28 November 1998, p. D-10 (illustrated).
G. Shearling, "Drop Dead," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 29 November 1998, p. G-2 (illustrated).
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Valencia, 2006, p. 55 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Kunsthalle Wien and Frankfurter Kunstverein, Die Sprache der Kunst, Die Beziehung von Bild und Text in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, September 1993-February 1994, pp. 21 and 355, no. 533 (illustrated).
Glenside, Beaver College of Art, Word for Word, September-October 1995.
New York, Cheim & Read, I Am The Walrus, June-August 2004.
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art and Kunsthalle Basel, Christopher Wool, July 1998-May 1999, pp. 54 and 288 (illustrated).
Kunsthaus Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum Lendkai, Warhol Wool Newman, Painting Real, September 2009-January 2010.
Sale room notice
Please note additional literature for the present lot:
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Valencia, 2006, p. 55 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Christopher Wool's brash, explicit paintings were developed against the backdrop of inner city blight and urban deprivation that affected most large cities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Blue Fool, a consummate example of Wool's most celebrated word paintings, is intrinsically linked to the post Punk scene of New York, its energy and attitude running through the very heart of the work.

Its outsized capital letters leap out off the wall, seemingly barking insults at a volume loud enough to be heard over the noise of the city. Yet while the aesthetics are clear and explicit, the work's meaning remains more ambiguous. The participants in this dialogue remain anonymous with the short and perfunctory exchange becoming part of the millions of similar exchanges that take place everyday. In both its visual and subconscious meaning, Blue Fool is very much a product of New York in the Punk years.

The four large blue letters that spell out the word 'FOOL' are tightly constrained by the edges of a large, flat white aluminum support. Wool's use of gigantic lettering and his refusal to allow these letters space to breath creates an intimidating atmosphere. The letters dominate the room and being constrained by the tight edges of the work gives them a sense of being pushed out of the picture plane. This sense of foreboding is heightened by the typeface. Similar to the Stencil font adopted by the U.S. military after the World War II, Wool's typeface matches it in its utilitarian nature and these elements combined with its physical size creates a sense of stark authority.

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 Death 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 LUV' hand-painted across it. This first collection of word paintings was 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' becomes 'AM OK' when enlarged to fit the scale of his canvas. Blue Fool, with the large letters that spell out 'FOOL', corresponds to the letters of the artist's name and simultaneously pokes fun at the viewer and at the same time creating a humorous self-portrait.

Wool's work is drawn from a variety of sources both inside and outside the art world. Like many artists of his generation he was concerned with the intrinsic nature of painting and was particularly interested in the process of applying paint on a surface. He was attracted the works of Richard Serra, and his sculptures of splashed lead in particular. These ideas became central to his ideas of process and the covering of surfaces in relation to painting, and to picture making in particular.

"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). The no-frills lettering recalls Minimalism, especially the word works of Joseph Kosuth. However, where Kosuth's works are deliberately self-constrained, hermetically sealed by the words that they formed, Wool's Blue Fool is rogue; it is disjointed and points to the ambiguity of language. In this respect, Wool's word paintings have been seen as an attempt to illustrate the limitations and convulsive nature of language. By breaking up the words into their constituent parts and making the viewer reinterpret the meanings of those words used in his paintings, he highlights the underlying failure of language as an effective and objective way of communication.

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