Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Christopher Wool, October 2013 - May 2014, p. 188, no. 73, illustrated in colour
Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne 2012, p. 363, illustrated in colour
Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’ in: Hans Werner Holzwarth, Christopher Wool, Cologne 2012, p. 10.
Christopher Wool has quickly emerged as one of the most important abstract painters of his generation. Perfecting his craft since his first experimentations in the 1980s, Wool has explored and expanded the limits and possibilities of painting, deploying various strategies of appropriation and employing techniques, processes, images and language drawn from popular vernacular culture. The present work, Untitled, dating from 2007 is a monumental illustration of Wool’s dedication to evolving the realms of painting. Its complex composition simultaneously reveals its construction and deconstruction registering the process of its creation in the work’s final form. As Wool noted in an interview from 1998 “I became more interested in ‘how to paint it’ than ‘what to paint’” (Christopher Wool cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 256).
Wool’s drive to experiment with a plethora of artistic languages established his practice alongside other contemporary visionaries, such as Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen; who likewise dared to challenge the status quo of painting from within the medium itself. This small body of artists sprung up around the rejection of an ideal that was voiced by the art historian Douglas Crimp in 1981 as ‘the end of painting’. Since then Wool has embarked on a series of career progressions from paintings of vines and floral prints, to the pre-eminent digital silkscreens and stencilled work pictures, through to the reductive strategies employed in his series of ‘grey paintings’ from which the present work originates.
Untitled is both a melancholy rumination on doubt and indecisiveness as to the future of painting as well as a celebration of the freedom of line. It undermines the rigid compositional structure of Wool’s early works by introducing a dialogue between mark making and unmaking. In 2000 an accidental discovery of the interaction between turpentine and enamel paint resulted in his body of work known as the ‘grey paintings’. In a moment of frustration Wool took to the canvas with a turpentine soaked rag in an attempt to erase his work, resulting in a blurred mass of a chaotic yet compelling nature. As the series developed, his paintings began to alternate the act of erasing with the act of drawing resulting in a series which embraced free gesture and reasserted the presence of the artist’s hand within his practice. Untitled features Wool’s signature drastic and anarchic lines that swirl through the surface of the painting, puncturing veils of hazy, monochromatic paint. As Glenn O’Brien noted; “sometimes it has a sort of nuclear centre, orbiting a ground zero in mid-canvas” (Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, in: Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne 2012, p. 11). One of the most intriguing aspects of the grey paintings is that when these lines accrete they appear to be cross-outs or negations; however, what they attempt to cross out is often blankness itself. Sometimes the background leaps to the foreground and broad swathes of paint conceal an armature of underpainting. As a result the layers of paint develop an ironic dichotomy of depth in two dimensions showing that depth is as much an illusion as anything. “Every painting has a time signature, and sometimes Wool plays with this. What came first here? What was added?” (Ibid.).
In addition to the freedom of linear movement there is also a certain street-smart quality to the aesthetic of works such as Untitled. From the outset of Wool’s career his identity has been associated with an abrasive urban sensibility and the forms in his grey paintings lend themselves to a comparison with graffiti. At the height of New York’s graffiti movement, with its heavily decorated letters, legibility was pushed to the limit and often trumped by graphic spectacle. In Wool’s Untitled this legibility is further abstracted, inviting a search for a figurative reference whilst simultaneously deferring this satisfaction. Thus, once again the painting creates a cyclical dynamic of recursion and negation.
Untitled perfectly encapsulates the drama that pervades Wool’s oeuvre, a product of nearly two decades of continual evolutionary progress within his practice. Wool’s grey paintings reinforce his comment that “the traditional idea of an objective masterpiece is no longer possible” (Christopher Wool cited in: Kate Brinson, ‘Trouble is my Business’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Christopher Wool, 2013, p. 47). Thus, Untitled is an exemplary paradigm of the contemporary masterpiece, with its grand scale and bold, gestural movements creating an impressively balanced and multi-faceted composition.
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