Installation view: Christopher Wool, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 25, 2013–January 22, 2014. Photo: Kristopher McKay © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

NEW YORK - Perhaps it’s no surprise that, as a word person and an art lover, I’m a huge fan of text paintings. Give me a good Lawrence Weiner or Jenny Holzer work and I’m likely to have fun. 

The very solid Christopher Wool retrospective at the Guggenheim, up until January 22, has some terrific text paintings indeed. It’s probably his best known body of work, and in my opinion his strongest.

In “Blue Fool, “TRBL,” and others, his blocky, stenciled phrasings are pulled apart graphically and re-stacked so that your brain has to put the words together again, and there’s a jolt of pleasure in doing so – there’s always a tart little joke or other payoff. Wool can truly be said to have staked his own territory with text. And their square-ish regularity is nicely softened and contrasted by the smooth, curving ramp in the Guggenheim’s rotunda.

Christopher Wool’s Trouble, 1989. © Christopher Wool.

If you prefer to look beyond text, you have Wool’s silkscreened pattern paintings to enjoy, too. Like his text works, he mostly employs just black and white, emphasizing pure form and arrangement.

If you’re at the Guggenheim for Wool, don’t forget to check out the smaller show “Robert Motherwell: Early Collages,” on view until January 5. I thought it was astonishing. Motherwell (1915–1991), clearly a major artist but maybe a less-discussed one these days compared to his peers, demonstrates total mastery of form and color with his deceptively simple collage work from the 40s and 50s.

They made me think of Matisse’s collage work in terms of the economical means employed, the way nothing is wasted. Even the mere torn edge of a piece of paper can seem like the Grand Canyon if it’s properly arranged. The fine-tuned balance of his color choices, especially the way he played with odd, muddy hues, also stayed with me.

Between Motherwell and Wool, you’ve got a Guggenheim two-fer: two artists who were able to take what’s right in front of all of us, like a letter of the alphabet or a piece of paper, and make it new.