Confronting the viewer with the graphic force of its message, Untitled is stripped of imagery and color, placing complete focus on the formal execution of the letters themselves. The arbitrary spacing and lack of punctuation resist immediate legibility, so the stenciled forms take on an abstract quality, underscored by the disjointed typeface and gridded composition. As explained by Katherine Brinson: “Wool was less concerned with language as a means to transcend image, or with the problematic conjunction of text and image, than with text as image. He has long been fascinated by the way words function when removed from the quiet authority of the page and exposed to the cacophony of the city, whether through the blaring incantations of billboards and commercial signage or the illicit interventions of graffiti artists. But with their velvety white grounds and stylized letters rendered in dense, sign painter’s enamel that pooled and dripped within the stencils, the word paintings have a resolute material presence that transcends the graphic.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 2013, p. 40) The repetition of the words "YOU CAN" and "OUT" is easily missed at first glance, but, upon further engagement, reveals an oddity in this mandate and forces the viewer to rethink how words and language are processed. The phrase "And if you don't like it you can get the fuck out of my house" comes from Eddie Murphy's famous stand-up show Raw, performed in 1987, and is among Wool's most iconic and oft-used phrases for its brash, flippant humor. By emphasizing the visual appearance of the letters rather than the meaning of the words, Wool transforms the words of Untitled into a formal statement that critically examines the nature of painting its efficacy as a vehicle for contemporary artistic expression.
This conceptual bent to the present work operates in tandem with the fact that Wool’s aesthetic not only reflects a punk sensibility but acts as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. His all-over composition and overt suggestion of the artist’s hand through irregular outlines, smudges, and slippages assert the importance of gesture, in line with such Abstract Expressionist predecessors as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. However, Wool's use of stencils as a form of mechanical reproduction, as well as his appropriation of 'low-brow' phrasing and profanity, link his work to Pop Art. Indeed, though it has been pushed to the edges of abstraction, Wool’s irreverent message is still legibly aggressive and jarring, compounding the attitude of punk indifference which permeates his oeuvre. Emerging from an era in which Douglas Crimp’s infamous missive “The End of Painting” declared the medium dead, Untitled reestablishes painting’s value with a combative, belligerent energy that both references the historical canon and introduces new methods of expression.
Just as it epitomizes the artistic concerns of its time, Untitled reflects the social and cultural moment for a new generation of artists practicing in New York in the early 1990s. In 1992, the year of this work’s execution, Wool was living in a studio on East 9th Street in Lower Manhattan, immersed in the grit and chaos of a city in recession. With the same anarchic authority as the graffiti message that originally inspired the series – the words 'SEX LUV' scrawled on the side of a truck – the present work is imbued with “street power.” Confronting the viewer with rebellious immediacy, Untitled testifies to the heretical potency of Wool’s oeuvre. Here he embraces a historical narrative of painting, then manipulates its legacy to produce a thrillingly subversive masterpiece. Skillfully fusing a semiotic investigation into the role of language with a tongue-in-cheek aesthetic, Wool challenges our expectations of painting and reinterprets his medium in a thoroughly modern context.
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