Lot 6
  • 6

Christopher Wool

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Christopher Wool
  • Untitled
  • alkyd and gouache on rice paper
  • 166 by 119cm.; 65 3/8 by 46 7/8 in.
  • Executed in 1997.


Portfolio Kunst AG, Vienna

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000


Vienna, Portfolio Kunst AG, Christopher Wool, 1997 

Catalogue Note

“There is no secure sense of what Wool’s paintings mean... They are uniform, deliberate, absolute, and masterful, but entirely resistant to one’s natural search for meaning, which they seem to deny.”

John Caldwell quoted in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Christopher Wool: New Work, 1989, n.p.

Through the appropriation and distortion of everyday signs of urban culture ranging from linguistic fragments to popular imagery and signs, Christopher Wool has redefined the medium of painting and created a novel language of pictorial abstraction. In Untitled, an outburst of graphic power is manifested through splashes, specks, crosses and circles of light grey and strong, contrasting black. Underlying the expressive gestural act is a minute structure of undulating lines that are partly covered by the multiple layers of paint and reverberating signs. Wool’s interest in existing forms and their subsequent subversion through a mixture of subconscious and deliberate acts of washing out, erasing, over-pasting, and re-definition lies at the core of his practice and is forcefully evident in the present work. Commenting on the act of painting, Wool himself asserted: “I became more interested in how to paint than what to paint” (Christopher Wool quoted in: Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 258).

The present work was created during an important shift in Wool's practice when he re-introduced the immediacy of artistic agency onto the canvas. Where his formal repertoire had been dominated by mechanic silkscreens, stencilled letters, and found imagery, by the mid-1990s Wool increasingly engaged with compositions of hand-rendered elements such as circles, crosses, and diamonds across an irregular grid, as deftly illustrated in the present work. Liberated from any formal, process-based interventions, which had previously served as the starting point for his paintings, Wool now embarked on a gestural, arguably more painterly expression in which the relationship of control and its relinquishment became fundamental to the work’s pictorial discord.

Wool’s continued belief in painting’s potential for critical agency has spurred a conceptually challenging oeuvre that deeply engages with the history of painting without reverting to banal or stereotypical cliché. While the all-over quality of his abstract paintings recall the bustling energy of Abstract Expressionism, his deadpan appropriation of urban aesthetics, popular imagery, and even graffiti techniques stand in contrast to the emotive introspection of artists such as Jackson Pollock. Glenn O’Brien aptly reflects on the connection between Wool and this art historical legacy: “…Wool embraces and engages action painting as his primary source and he then manipulates it, with the cool reflection of a pop artist or dada collagist, creating art that is both intense and reflective, physical and mechanical, unconscious and considered, refined in technique and redolent of street vernacular, both high and low. But despite the many apparent contradictions the work is singular, strong, organic, and as deep as it might appear shallow” (Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, in: Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Wool, Cologne 2012, p. 8).

Rather than subscribing to the Modernist ideal of a linear progression towards artistic mastery, Wool purposefully started to appropriate his own paintings in 1998, the year the present work was created. In this reiteration of his own artistic output, Wool used previous paintings as silkscreen groundings to create new works that engaged with a self-referential discourse of appropriation. The underlying grid in Untitled bears a striking resemblance to some of Wool’s earlier Pattern Paintings from the late 1980s. In Untitled, Wool refers to the grid as the foundation of the work, an inherent structure that is powerfully contrasted by the lyrical feel of repetitive mark-making and repetition of common signs. Creating a symbiosis between order and disorder within the pictorial space, Untitled is a masterful display of Wool’s highly refined sense of artistic expression.