Lot 4
  • 4

Christopher Wool

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Christopher Wool
  • Untitled (S52)
  • signed and dated 1989 on the reverse
  • alkyd and acrylic on aluminium
  • 91.5 by 61cm.; 36 by 24in.


Donated by the artist for a Renaissance Society Benefit Auction, Chicago

Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

Morris Healy Gallery, New York

Sale: Christie’s, New York, Contemporary Art Day Sale, 17 November 1999, Lot 137 

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne 2008, p. 124, illustrated in colour, and 2012, p. 118, illustrated in colour  


Colour: The colour in the catalogue is fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra-violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

An intriguing matrix of interlacing vines and majestic black birds, Christopher Wool’s Untitled (S52) is an imposing and early example of the artist’s celebrated rubber stamp technique. Representing a pivotal shift in Wool’s practice, in 1988 he enlarged the limited pictorial range of his off-the-shelf rollers by introducing the rubber stamp. This new technique allowed the artist to enlist a much more complex and broad schema of imagery that came to include his quintessential running men, opulent bouquets of flowers and, as is so lyrically explored in the present work, the interlocking vines and birds. Continuing Wool’s career-long inquiry into the deconstruction of the conventions of painting, Untitled (S52) depicts a roving vine-like inky black pattern repeated in faintly delineated squares of stamped application against the uninflected monochrome surface of the aluminium ground.

At once historically reflective and yet very much a product of its own time, Wool’s oeuvre melds an appropriationist detachment with the language and strategies of abstraction. Heavily influenced by the ‘allover’ compositional strategy of Jackson Pollock; minimal palette, line and gesture of Brice Marden; and mediated by Andy Warhol’s integration of mechanical methods, Wool’s almost exclusively black and white painterly enquiry distils a myriad of art historical precedent with sensational economy. Alongside a small group of artists that include Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, Wool scrutinised the role of painting from within the medium itself by embracing failure and parodying the grand archetypes of painterly expression. As Bruce Ferguson has observed, “Wool accepts that he is and that his paintings are, at any moment, within what Richard Prince calls 'wild history,' subject to the intertextual meeting of various discourses” (Bruce Ferguson quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Los Angeles, Eli Broad Foundation, Christopher Wool, 1992, p. 256).

Although Wool’s recapitulation of found imagery is superficially akin to the work of Pop luminaries such as Jasper Johns and Warhol, Wool’s work assumes a further and perhaps cooler level of detachment. John Caldwell explains: “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” (John Caldwell quoted in: ibid., p. 185). As is perfectly manifested in Untitled (S52), Wool addresses these concerns by means of reducing both abstraction and figuration to a point from which he may then return and intervene. His art does not merely strategise semiotic themes of signs and signifiers, but, as is here shown, 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 quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Valencia, IVAM Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Christopher Wool, 2006, p. 200).