Lot 27
  • 27

Christopher Wool

1,400,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
1,688,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Christopher Wool
  • Untitled
  • signed, dated 2003 and numbered (P 429) on the overlap; signed, dated 2003 and numbered (P 429) on the reverse
  • enamel on linen
  • Executed in 2003.


Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004


Antwerp, Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Christopher Wool, February - March 2004

Catalogue Note

Untitled is a work of impressive size and dramatic aesthetic; an exemplar of Christopher Wool’s feted series of abstract monochrome paintings. This artist’s oeuvre is focused almost entirely upon the exploration and expansion of the limits and possibilities of painting. Wool is a pioneer, constantly deploying new strategies of appropriation and subversion, and perennially incorporating techniques, processes, images, and language from vernacular culture into his practice. The present work should be viewed as evidence of his dedication to the advancement of the painterly tradition within the art historical canon. Its complex composition simultaneously reveals its construction and deconstruction, registering the process of its execution in the work’s final form, and boldly juxtaposing elements of creation and negation. As Wool noted in an interview in 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).

Like a vandal taking a spray-can to the wall, Wool simultaneously defaces and makes anew in this work. A mood of urban toughness and street-smarts abounds, as it does in so many of this artist’s best known paintings. From the very outset of his career, his identity has been associated with an abrasive urban sensibility, and many of his works lend themselves to a comparison with graffiti. His dramatic word paintings find their origin here, appropriating text and phrases from every-day vernacular in an equitable manner. However, with their snaking spray-paint lines, the Abstract Paintings, the series to which the present work belongs, provide the most obvious reflection of the graffiti aesthetic.

The Abstract Paintings are a body of work founded upon juxtaposition and dichotomy. In aesthetic, these works draw out the tension between mark-making and unmaking, between gesture and erasure; and in conceptual terms, they can be viewed not only as a melancholy rumination on the future of painting, but also as an exultant celebration of the freedom of line. The series was instigated in 2000, upon an accidental discovery of the interaction between turpentine and enamel paint. In a moment of creative frustration, Wool had taken to the canvas with a turpentine soaked rag in an attempt to erase his painterly efforts. However, rather than a wiped-blank clean slate, he was left with a blurred mass of chaotic grey wash – a compelling abstract composition in itself, redolent of broad brushstrokes in its gestural power. Thus, an act of destruction evolved into a process of creation. As the series developed, these paintings began to alternate the act of erasing with the act of drawing, resulting in a series that embraced the qualities of line and reasserted the importance of gesture within this artist’s praxis. The present example is a distillation of this process: drastic asinine lines swirl through the surface, puncturing and entangling veils of hazy grisaille wash. There is a pervasive sense of layering and of depth and false perspectival recession. We are reminded of Glenn O’Brien’s judgement of these series: “Every painting has a time signature, and sometimes Wool plays with this. What came first here? What was added?” (Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, in: Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne 2012, p. 11).

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, stencilled word pictures, through to the reductive strategies employed in his series of Abstract Paintings, and the series of digital silkscreens based on these original compositions. The Abstract Paintings, as exemplified by the present work, should be understood as the ultimate demonstration of his dissident progressive attitude, for which – to quote the artist himself – “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).