Constituting a dramatic negotiation between artistic agency and effacement, Christopher Wool's Untitled is a commanding example from the artist's corpus of abstract monochrome works. Untitled perfectly encapsulates Wool’s anarchic painterly enterprise with complexity, juxtaposing the chaotic entropy of the image with the austere stringency of the palette. In every way exemplary of Wool’s specialized approach to painting, Wool’s autographic black stamped patterns dance across the stark white surface of the present work, creating a swirl of layered forms that project an aura at once fully resolved and utterly dynamic. Vigorous gestures of abstraction coalesce with stark artifacts of mechanical reproduction in Wool’s signature monochrome, imbuing the work with a characteristic refinement. Wool creates a picture plane rife with action that simultaneously imparts a stark flatness. Untitled presents the viewer with a formally engaging and intellectually rigorous artistic experience.
Untitled epitomizes Wool’s capacity to internally scrutinize and reconsider the tradition of the medium via processes of reductionism and recapitulation, stripping down the central facets of the medium to prompt a marriage of the mechanical and the painterly. Painted over and over, the gestures of Wool's composition are endlessly requoted and effaced, and further retranslated through digital modes of citation and reproduction. Comprising a condensation of Wool's painterly syntax, Untitled represents the very culmination of the artist's ironic and almost appropriationist concern with the language of abstraction: "it's as if he's leeched the life out of his vibrant loops, captured them on film, then searched for a way to bring them back to life." (Eric Hall in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, New York, 2008, p. 371)
Untitled continues to maintain a forcefully discursive relationship with art history, a precedent established with Wool’s earliest abstract works. The sweeping rhythm of the present work’s dominant pattern is powerfully evocative of the ‘allover’ Abstract Expressionist paradigm of Jackson Pollock, while Wool’s insistence on a palette restricted to black and white recalls the chromatic polarity of the best of Franz Kline’s paintings. Meanwhile Wool’s approach to media, recapitulation of found imagery, and pictorial repetition forges a strong parity with Pop masterworks by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. The unity of painting and process is thus made manifest in the present work, in which the remit of expression resides in the layering, register, overprinting, and variance of the pigment application. The dots and checkered grids that multiply across the surface of Untitled recall Sigmar Polke’s off-register Rasterbilder, the traces of a mechanical printing process gone awry. As critic Joshua Decter reflected on these paintings: “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. These recent paintings are also his most emphatically ‘painterly’ to date: the more Wool endeavors to blot out, the more complex things get.” (Joshua Decter, “Christopher Wool: Luhring Augustine Gallery,” Artforum 34, September 1995, p. 89)
Throughout his career, Wool has explored a mutating, visually arresting landscape of seemingly mechanical, cipher-like reductions, coolly detached and emptied of heroic angst. Like a vandal taking a spray-can to the wall, Wool simultaneously defaces and makes anew. Adhering to a compelling uniformity inextricably linked to Wool’s abiding interest in sign-painting and the translation of the mechanically reproduced photographic image onto the painterly surface, Wool’s surface maintains a concomitant machine-made quality with a seductive expressionism that lures us into its exhilirating spangles. Epitomizing Wool’s compelling amalgamation of visual restraint and explosive bravado, the present work embodies Marga Paz's deft summary that "[we] are confronted with work that deals with the possibilities and mechanisms that keep painting alive and valid in the present, an issue that, despite all forecasts, is one of the most productive and complex issues in contemporary visual art." (Marga Paz in Exh. Cat., Valencià, IVAM Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Christopher Wool, 2006, p. 200) This exceptional work affords highly revealing insight into the processes of construction and destruction of pictorial lexica, as well as the scrutiny and reconsideration of conventions of painting, that have formed the fundamental kernel of Wool’s conceptual and aesthetic enterprise.
At a time when neo-expressionism defined the prevailing aesthetic of the 1980s, Wool, alongside a small enclave of artists including Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, scrutinized the role of painting from within the medium itself by creating bodies of work that were inherently self-reflexive and deeply aware of art historical convention. Wool’s paintings are condensed to the limited palette of black and white enamel applied to a canvas ground, the flatness of the surface, and the erasure of verisimilitude and privilege of semiotic distillation, rendering a myriad of art historical precedent with sensational economy. Untitled is defined by the schema of painterly omissions or ‘glitches’ that disrupt the decorative pattern that it presents. The effect is one in which Wool invokes the associative potential of decorative imagery for his scrutiny of contemporary painting; as presciently observed by Gary Indiana for the Village Voice in 1987: “Their decorative qualities are deceptions. The eye doesn’t linger in one place or rove over them registering choice bits, but locks into contact with the surface and freezes …They exercise an almost hideous power, like real mirrors of existence.” (Gary Indiana, The Village Voice, March 1987, cited in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Op. Cit., p. 48)
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