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signed, titled and dated ' WOOL 1995 UNTITLED (P248) (on the reverse)
enamel on aluminium
107 7⁄8 x 72in. (274 x 183cm.)
Executed in 1995
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.
Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998.
Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998 (studio installation view illustrated, p. 8; illustrated, p.230).
H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Christopher Wool, Cologne 2012 (studio installation view illustrated, p. 179).
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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Evening Sale, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection since 1998, Untitled (1995) is an impressive large-scale example of Christopher Wool’s postmodern practice. Encompassing the coolness of Pop and Minimalism, the rigour of Conceptual art and the bravado of Abstract Expressionism, Wool takes the history, conventions and problematics of painting itself as his subject. The present work, executed in black and white enamels on an aluminium panel almost three metres high, creates a complex palimpsest of printed floral imagery and gestural brushwork, bringing together some of the main motifs that defined his art in the mid-1990s. Two large, cartoonish Clip Art pictures of flowers are silkscreened in repeated pairs, dividing the composition into rough quadrants: traces of enamel define the rectangular margins of each stencil, creating the effect of overlaid frames or collaged posters. Over these Wool has applied a dotted pattern, using a roller of the type used to print decorative ‘wallpaper’ designs on domestic surfaces. He has further overpainted and obscured these layers with translucent, broad-brushed clouds of dripping white enamel. Finally, another roller-pattern, which reiterates the flowers in a confetti-like haze, is laid over the white paint. An abundance of registers, scales and modes of imagery jostle for attention, building up into a surface of extraordinary visual life, even as the painting seems to try to cancel itself out.

Wool came to prominence in 1980s New York, at a time when the future of painting was constantly called into question. Not unlike his German contemporaries Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger, he embraced a tactic of critiquing the medium from within: pushing its mechanics to breaking point, and enfolding layers of doubt, erasure and anxiety into its surfaces. While working in sophisticated dialogue with art history, he also looked to the wider world, drawing on televisual and film noir motifs, the billboards and street graffiti of his downtown environment, and a raw urban soundtrack of hip-hop and punk music. His use of rollered patterns—which began in 1986—was inspired by the décor common to low-rent apartment buildings on the Lower East Side. In the present work, the dots and petals build up into a gritty, cacophonous swarm, assailing the cheerful kitsch of the silkscreened flowers. They at once echo the regular, pointillist Ben-Day printing process explored by Roy Lichtenstein and the emotive ‘all-over’ abstract compositions of Jackson Pollock: through the slippages, drips and imperfections of Wool’s process, their stark artifice is placed in tension with a poignant painterly fragility.

Stencils became prevalent in Wool’s work following his first ‘text’ paintings of 1987; he began to apply imagery with large rubber stamps soon afterwards, and introduced screenprinting in 1993. His works of this period often piled up into hard-boiled imbroglios of pattern and symbol, printed replica and painted redaction. John Caldwell has compared Wool’s obtuse, unyielding motifs to Andy Warhol’s iconic silkscreens of the 1960s. ‘Wool is more reticent, cooler even than Warhol’, he writes. ‘Since the repeated pattern has no inherent meaning and no strong association, we tend to view its variation largely in terms of abstraction, expecting to find in the changes of the pattern some of the meaning we associate with traditional abstract painting’ (J. Caldwell, ‘New Work: Christopher Wool’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1989, n.p.). This sense of meaning’s withholding—of painting as a space of deletion, evasion, and unresolved conflict—might be said to define Wool’s approach at large. Here, unlike Warhol’s blazingly banal silkscreened flowers, Wool’s Clip-Art blooms are almost overwhelmed by the noise and density of his visible process. Stuttering screens, clogged lines, whitewashing and re-printing come together in a frenzy of additive and reductive mark-making. As stems, leaves and flowerpots are beset with glitchy interference, the work blossoms into intricate entanglement: in its profusion of negated signs and empty gestures, Wool’s self-effacing anti-painting is haunted by an inescapable, paradoxical beauty.

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