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signed and dated 'WOOL 2008/2011' (lower right)
silkscreen ink and enamel paint on paper
72 x 55 ¼in. (182.9 x 140.3cm.)
Executed in 2008-2011
Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.
Private Collection, Basel (acquired from the above in 2011).
H.W. Holzwarth (ed.), Christopher Wool, Cologne 2012, (installation view illustrated, p. 355).
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2013-2014 (installation view illustrated, p. 210).
Cologne, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Christopher Wool, 2011.
Paris, Museé d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Christopher Wool, 2012, p. 66 (illustrated, p. 67).
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Vice-Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Europe

Lot Essay

Included in Christopher Wool’s landmark 2012 exhibition at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris—his first in the French capital—Untitled is a vibrant large-scale work on paper that demonstrates the evolution of the artist’s improvisatory visual language. Spanning nearly two metres in height, it offers a mesh of painted and screen-printed layers, virtuosically splashed, poured and entwined. Rendered in deep tones of magenta and black—a rare combination within Wool’s oeuvre—it belongs to a sequence of paintings and drawings that extend the aesthetic of his celebrated ‘gray’ paintings. Resembling Rorschach tests, fragments of graffiti or spilled inkblots, these works were created by screen-printing elements based on digitally-manipulated photographs of earlier drawings: a technique he showcased at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Wool then worked upon his surfaces by hand, adding layers of colour and texture that blurred the boundaries between painted and printed material. Bold, bright and lyrical, the results marked a new chapter in the artist’s three-decade-long enquiry into the mechanics of image production. Here, reproduced fragments merge seamlessly with raw painterly gestures, bound together in a battle of creation and destruction.

Wool’s abstract practice first began to take shape during the mid-1990s, following on from his seminal word and pattern paintings begun the previous decade. The seed was sown with his 1991 artist’s book Cats in Bag Bags in River, in which he dragged photographs of his own works through a photocopier, delighting in the jagged strips of cyan, yellow and magenta toner that scarred the surface of the images. From 1993 he began to transfer this technique to painting, attacking pre-existing motifs with wild brush-loads of coloured pigment. By the turn of the millennium, this approach would give way to his iconic ‘gray’ paintings, consisting of free painterly gestures which Wool would blur and erase with a turpentine-soaked rag. In the present series of works, the artist went one stage further, manipulating his own creations digitally before subjecting them to processes of obfuscation and distortion. Here, unlike the ‘gray’ paintings, colour makes a powerful return, invoking the acid tones of CMYK that had defined the artist’s earliest experiments.

The twin dynamics of production and erasure are closely linked to Wool’s feelings about the status of painting in the post-modern era. The artist came to prominence in the 1980s: a period in which the future of the medium was repeatedly called into question. Many, in the wake of the explosion of Minimalist and Conceptual practices, believed it to be dead. Others, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, rode the wave of Neo-Expressionism that swept across Europe and America, deconstructing painting’s traditions in order to visualise new pathways for its development. Wool’s works sat between these two camps, ostensibly championing the medium while simultaneously exuding an uneasy sense of doubt. On one hand, his gestures quiver with the raw vitality of street art, as well as the lyrical, expressive freedom of artists such as Willem de Kooning and Cy Twombly. At the same time, his dalliance with the aesthetics of reproduction and appropriation might be seen to extend the cool, conceptual legacy of Andy Warhol and the Pictures Generation. In the present work, both modes exist side by side, by turns nourishing and undermining one another. It is a powerful expression of the instabilities and contradictions that increasingly define our relationship with images in the twenty-first century.

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