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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York

Christopher Wool
B. 1955
UNTITLED
signed, titled, dated 1994 and numbered (S128) on the reverse
enamel on aluminum
54 x 39 3/4 in. 137.2 x 101 cm.
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Provenance

American Academy in Rome (donated by the artist in 1996)
Sotheby's, New York, November 20, 1996, Lot 175 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, London 
Xavier Hufkens, Belgium
Acquired by the present owner from the above in December 2011

Exhibited

The Hague, Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Transforming the known: Collection Bert Kreuk, June - September 2013

Catalogue Note

Riveting in its sensational economy of form and luscious surface quality, Christopher Wool’s 1994 painting Untitled confronts the legacy of abstract painting by means of the artist’s archetypal and penetrating visual intelligence. Dynamic gestures of abstraction coalesce with ambiguously decorative fleur-de-lis patterns in Wool’s signature monochromatic palette, while the act of dramatic eradication and effacement imbue the work with a characteristic refinement. Wool’s trademark floral patterns march boldly across the stark white surface of the present work in a radiant and sophisticated deep blue, creating a lush cacophony of layered forms that project an aura at once fully resolved and utterly dynamic. As petals burst forth across the surface, atop strata of thickly applied brushstrokes and overlapping drips, Wool creates a picture plane rife with action that simultaneously imparts a stark flatness. 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. 

Throughout his career, Wool has explored a mutating, visually arresting landscape of seemingly mechanical, cipher-like reductions, coolly detached and emptied of heroic angst. 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. 

Wool’s artistic breakthrough arrived in 1986 and 1987: it was then that the artist discovered a fascination in the patterned rollers incised with blossoms, leaves, and vines that New York landlords would use to paint the hallways of their building in place of the more expensive décor option of wallpaper. Available in hardware and art-supply stores, these banal tools interested Wool for their circular capacity for mechanical reproduction and the disjunction between abstraction and figuration that resulted from their impressions. Wool began to apply black enamel to primed aluminum panels. Lifting this pictorial vocabulary of industrial decoration from readymade devices challenged the expressive impulse in abstract painting with prettified iconography that bristled with banality; deploying these rollers removed the content from the seemingly representational images of floral patterns. Although these images had referents in the real world, their existence on the picture plane was purely abstract and wholly mechanical. A few years later, Wool fabricated rubber stamps from the imagery of his favorite rollers, magnifying the images of flowers and initiating a system of visual noise in the procedural fallout that resulted in the image. Echoing the elegantly ornate curvature of Henri Matisse's blooming botanic cut-outs, Wool's forms similarly abstract the forms so as to confuse the boundaries between reality and representation. Taking this dislocation of the original source image one step further, Wool concluded the rubber stamp paintings in 1992, and began to use the silkscreen in 1993 with enlargements of flower images derived from the earlier wallpaper rollers and textile design, opening up the potential for greater scale. Baroque in its curled petals, the flowers on the aluminum surface meld into each other amongst a sea of imperfections. With paintings dating from this period, Wool also began to experiment with layering images atop each other, resulting in glitches such as skips, stutters, and drips—the outlines of Wool’s screens are clearly delineated on the surface of the present work, overlapping in a discordant grid that impels a heightened surface chaos.

In the sumptuous painterly extravagance of the present work, we are made privy to the schema of procedural omissions or ‘glitches’ that disrupt the ostensibly decorative pattern that it presents. As explained by Ann Goldstein, these paintings from 1993-1995 explored image constructions as simultaneous products of both build-up and erasure: “The banality that one associates with Andy Warhol’s silkscreened flowers is overwhelmed by the grittiness of Wool’s intense and seemingly out-of-control compositions. The first silkscreen works continue the additive process by laying black flower images on top of each other. Wool later introduced white into the works, painting out certain areas, and then silkscreening the black images again, wherein the process that produces the works becomes both additive and reductive.” (Ann Goldstein in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 262) With the silkscreen technique and the floral iconography, Wool inevitably enters into a dialogue with Andy Warhol, both having isolated the emblems of flowers against monochrome grounds and emptying them of meaning in their purely decorative nature. Welcoming the potential for error in his mechanical process of paint application, here Wool revels in the mishaps of dripped paint and slipped outlines: the fleur-de-lis overruns the clovers and concealed flowers that are lost amidst paint smears, revealing the human behind the depersonalized formal template. 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 Ibid., p. 48)

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York