Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, November 15, 2006 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York

  • Literature

    J. Avgikos, “Christopher Wool – Luhring Augustine, New York, New York”, ArtForum, January 1993

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot, Hole in your Fuckin Head, belongs to Christopher Wool’s famous large-scale series of “word” paintings, painted in 1992. In his paintings and above all in this lot, Wool addresses the universal experience; they interrogate and humor us, challenging our expectations of the traditional norm. His artwork has followed a trajectory that is at once historically reflexive, witness to the moments around it, yet simultaneously acutely self-critical. He operates in mediums that challenge our perception of composition, questioning the meanings behind layered meanings and subconscious references.

    Wool sought out inspiration in new possibilities of painting in the early 1980s. By creating contradictions to the traditional associations of the brushstroke and colors widely accepted in the painterly dictionary, the artist considered his artistic influences and developed his own way. Wool considered his mature work to have started in 1984 when he began to focus and investigate the basic process of painting. Over the coming years his stylistic tastes changed and developed. By 1987, Wool began to incorporate words as the subjects of his paintings. Initially these works included only stenciled monosyllabic phrases “sex” and “luv” over one another. His first word painting was a play on the words “Trojan Horse”, by dropping the “a” in Trojan and the “e” in Horse he focuses on the multiple meanings or expressions produced by abbreviating and deleting letters. (A. Goldstein, “What They’re Not: The Paintings of Christopher Wool”, Christopher Wool, California, 1998, p. 260)

    Madeleine Grynsztejn explains further, “Christopher Wool’s “word” paintings “beat on the very crux of symbolic meaning, through their focus on language. That the predominant pictorial elements in these paintings are words only complicates this art’s purported intent to clearly “speak,” for inherent in any viewer’s reception is the experiential fact of reading and looking as simultaneously exclusive acts. The word as plastic material – as shape, medium, and color – will always rub against the word as syntax and conjurer of mental images. Wool deliberately choreographs a collision between different components of language – grammatical, semantic, visual, imaginary, and spoken – that conveys an emotional magnitude beyond the range of everyday speech and closer in spirit to the true proportions of Wool’s subject; the inherent inefficacy and near-constant failure of language. These paintings may contain words – the building blocks by which we identify, analyze, and enunciate – but instead of information, we are given a physical record of disarticulation.” (M. Grynsztejn taken from "Unfinished Business" in A. Goldstein, Christopher Wool, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 267)

    The real impact of Wool’s incorporation of text into his “word” paintings lies within his manipulation of a pre-contextualized medium into the composition of painting itself. We can see that the roller paintings he created lend themselves to his current adaptation in the present lot; layering on meaning-- text onto canvas is simply another mode for the artist to display multiple subjects in his artwork.

    In 1988 Christopher Wool endeavored into yet another technique of application. The artist chose to work with rubber stamps, which crossed his canvases in myriad fashions. Linked to his roller paintings, this series also finds new interpretations of the artist’s application of method upon canvas. In the stamp series Wool broadens the imagery to incorporate leaves, birds, flowers and other tactile visuals.

    Like the rollers and stamp series which decorate the canvas, the “word” paintings operate in layered meanings. Wool uses text as a vehicle for address, much the same way as other artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat or Vito Acconci. One is practically conditioned to speak his paintings aloud, to gain the true impact of the work. By 1989, Wool creates paintings that incorporate more varied texts, with multiple fragments of sayings and phrases. Hole in Your Fuckin Head displays this method of text, which read as an all over text and have significance as meaningful text, yet offer us a twisted, slang version of anything formal. Wool takes the parlance of acceptance and magnifies it with expletives, the painting shouts at us- awakening our perception and acknowledgement of what we see before us.

    By choosing to work with various mediums including paper, canvas, aluminum and photography, oil paint, and spray enamel, Christopher Wool explores the possibilities of interpretation and developing thresholds of meaning in his art. One can connect the approach of Wool’s to a similar approach Andy Warhol took to incorporating consumer production into his artwork. Warhol’s Flowers paintings from 1967 incorporate prefabricated elements, the silkscreen, onto his fixed medium of painting (fig). There is a deliberate relationship in both artists’ work to suggest the dichotomy between gesture and fabrication.

    “The power of Wool’s work is entrenched in its labor-intensive emphasis both on the act of painting and on painting’s constituent elements. In Wool’s pieces we are perpetually returned to an analysis of form, line, color, frame, and frontal composition. The result of this approach is a sharp emphasis on the surface of the work as a site of formation and interpretation, and a commensurate focus on the practice of image-making. Wool’s ambition is to incorporate into the work a sustained consciousness of art-making’s activity. Further, the compressed compositions carried on skin-thin surfaces convey in their tactility an awareness that these paintings cannot in any actual sense embody transcendence or grandeur. This is an inescapable aspect of present circumstances. In fact, Wool’s work deliberately prevents a swift and unencumbered apprehension ‘for the purpose of awakening in the spectator the uneasiness with which the perception of a painting should be accompanied’.” (ibid, p. 265)

    Not simply “words” on canvas or a painting itself, Hole in Your Fuckin Head is a highly systematic, intellectual challenge that masterfully evokes Christopher Wool’s artistic impulses. Wool defines a new development of Abstract Expressionism, and in so doing manifests a work of art that helps to redefine ‘picture-making’.


Hole in Your Fuckin Head (W31)

Enamel on aluminum.
108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm).
Signed, titled and dated “Fuckin Head (W31) Wool 1992” on the reverse.

$2,200,000 - 2,201,000 

Sold for $1,696,000

Contemporary Art Part I

16 Nov 2006, 7pm
New York