Lot 35
  • 35


2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • Christopher Wool
  • Untitled
  • signed, titled and dated 1998 on the stretcher
  • enamel on linen
  • 274.3 by 182.9 cm. 108 by 72 in.


Luhring Augustine, New York
Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Private Collection, Switzerland
Skarstedt Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013


Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, Christopher Wool, September - October 1998Geneva, Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Christopher Wool, 1999


Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, New York 2008, pp. 224-225, illustrated (in installation at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 1998); p. 226, illustrated


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

Explosive in composition and enthralling in its application of pitch-black enamel paint on linen support, this monumentally scaled and intricately layered work from 1998 is a key touchstone of Christopher Wool’s revolutionary investigation into the genre of painting. This work is at once a painting of a painting and a painting about painting. In order to make it, Wool first ran a number of readymade patterned paint rollers along a massive ground, layering and muddling them so as to obfuscate their pre-determined orders, then framed them with a huge rectangle of spray-paint – so as to emphasise their role as subject matter – before finally flattening their forms into four quadrants of silkscreen. Even at this stage, instead of using more suitable silkscreen ink, he pushed thick enamel paint through the screens, so that his forms would be heavily hampered and muddied by glitches, blobs, and stutters. Wool glorifies his own convolution, attacking the genre of painting from within, and espousing his own concepts of creation and authorship. Curator Ann Goldstein has described his practice as such: “Through process, technique, scale, composition, and imagery, Wool’s work accentuates the tensions and contradictions between the act of painting, the construction of a picture, its physical attributes, the visual experience of looking at it, and the possibilities of playing with and pushing open the thresholds of its meanings. They are defined by what they’re not – and what they hold back” (Ann Goldstein in: Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 263).Having developed his practice at the critical height of the Pictures Generation – a group of artists whose appropriative and largely photographic strategies fundamentally undermined the validity of painting in contemporary art – Wool set out to prove the critical agency of painting within a set of newly defined parameters. The influential critic, Douglas Crimp, had famously declared ‘The End of Painting’ in his eponymous essay of 1981; nevertheless, it was within this critical milieu that Wool pursued a trajectory that negated the expressive decision-making usually associated with the discipline. In the late 1980s, Wool began working with his hand at a remove from his paintings’ surfaces. Using wallpaper pattern rollers, rubber stamps and stencils, Wool created all-over compositions of readymade motifs, banal patterns, and ubiquitous words and phrases on immaculate white aluminium surfaces in thick enamel paint. Combining the process-oriented practices of late-Minimalism with a quotidian ‘borrowing’ from everyday life, Wool’s paintings deftly sidestepped the baggage of painterly expressivity; and yet, via the mistakes and chance slippages of his handmade-readymade method, Wool was able to maintain a sense of free-hand energy. The skips and slides of the paint roller, the visual noise at the edge of a rubber stamp, or the pooling of enamel paint underneath a stencil, imparted remarkably painterly passages of poetic spontaneity.

 From this moment onwards, Wool’s oeuvre evolved through a cumulative progression of working and reworking. Following the rollers, stamps and stencils of the late 1980s and early 1990s, in 1993 Wool began applying the same motifs via silkscreen. By taking on Andy Warhol’s trademark method, Wool was afforded greater levels of mechanical mediation and control that nonetheless preserved the potential for dissonant slipups. The even effect of the silkscreen allowed the artist to apply layer-upon-layer of patternation that resulted in dense strata. While this sometimes resulted in compositional collapse, Wool’s cumulative layering would also create new forms and unexpected configurations. The push-pull of the destructive-creative impulse thus came to the fore in Wool’s work for the first time; as Katherine Brinson has explained, it was “only by sabotaging his own images”, that Wool could “find the freedom to generate new ones” (Katherine Brinson, ‘Trouble is my Business’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 2014, p. 42). 

Brilliantly capturing Wool’s ambitious and clever formal programme – which opened up the possibilities for painting from an unexpected angle – Untitled represents a key moment in the history of abstract painting. In the words of Glenn O’Brien, Christopher Wool “embraces and engages action painting as his primary source and then he 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 and redolant of street vernacular, both high and low” (Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, Wool, Cologne 2012, p. 8).