Christopher Wool - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Michigan, DePree Art Center; San Jose Museum of Art; Belleair, Florida Gulf Coast Art Center, Independent Curators International Exhibition: Dark Decor, 10 January 1992 - 7 February 1993
    London, Inigo Philbrick, Christopher Wool, Mike Kelley Paintings on Paper, 8 February – 28 April 2016, pp. 35, 36, 37 (illustrated, p. 37)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Christopher Wool is one of the most prominent contemporary painters at work today. His pictures featuring either stencilled words or repeated patterns have become modern icons in their own rights. Painted in 1989, Untitled dates from the period when Wool was beginning to gain international recognition for his unique dismantling and reconstruction of the precepts and tenets of painting. By this time, his work had been shown in one-man shows both in New York and abroad, and he himself had been granted an artist’s residency at the American Academy in Rome; the same the year that Untitled was executed. More recently, Wool’s works have been celebrated in a number of exhibitions in prominent international museums, including a 2014 retrospective held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York which later travelled to the Art Institute of Chicago in his native city.

    Wool was brought up in Chicago, but moved to New York in the early 1970s in search of a vibrant avant garde artistic sphere. At the time when Wool had been an art student, much of the teaching was still dominated by artists who had been linked to Abstract Expressionism, a style that he sometimes respected but nonetheless rejected. Like his contemporaries and early admirers Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, Wool sought out his own means of expression over the years. For Wool, this ultimately involved a return to painting, creating works that intelligently dissected and explored the limitations of their own medium. This is certainly the case in Untitled, which features a floral motif repeated again and again across the surface: its figurative origin as an image of leaves and branches is repeated to the point of absurdity. It becomes instead an all-over pattern of forms which the viewer is forced to appraise on its own new terms. In this way, the floral pattern echoes the process that underpins his famous word paintings, where the letters are painted in such a way, with words often split from line to line, that their appearance tangles with their supposed meaning. This is exemplified in Untitled from the following year, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which is emblazoned with the words: ‘CATS IN BAG BAGS IN RIVER.’

    During the 1980s, Wool had been struck by the rollers used by landlords in New York for painting interiors, giving a false and supposedly luxurious impression of wallpaper. He himself adopted similar techniques, using rubber stamps and rollers to create works such as Untitled that probed the entire nature of painting. Ever the iconoclast, Wool was able to skewer the lofty concepts of Action Painting by creating pictures that bore visual similarities to his post-war American forebears, yet were rooted in the fabric of a degraded, punk-era New York. At the same time, using this found subject matter, Wool discovered, ‘an interesting friction generated by putting forms that were supposed to be decorative in such severe terms’ (Wool, quoted in C. Brinson, ‘Trouble is my Business’, pp. 35-51, C. Brinson, ed., Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York, 2014, p. 38.)

    This was a seemingly natural development in Wool’s work from his first exhibited pictures, which featured layers of enamel upon aluminium sheets. When he showed those in 1986, only three years before creating Untitled, the critic Colin Westerbeck would identify the tension between the epic and the domestic that underpinned those earlier works, commenting that they were ‘a cross between a Jackson Pollock and a Formica countertop’ (C. Westerbeck, ‘Christopher Wool’, Artforum, Vol. 25, No. 1, September 1986, p. 139.) As Westerbeck continued, ‘the aspiration here is to span the distance… between Expressionism and Minimalism.’ This is also the case in Untitled: looking at this work, the viewer is immersed within the lace-like intricacy of the patterns that cover the surface of the almost metre-high sheet of paper. There are knowing echoes of Jackson Pollock in the rivulets that form the stems and leaves of the repeated motif.

    Despite this, Wool defiantly obstructs any hints of sensuality, insisting upon the viewer’s awareness that the pattern has been applied using a form of stencil, repeating the motif through an almost mechanical technique, removing that emphasis on the brushstroke or the artist’s mark that was so vital to so much twentieth-century painting. Using a technique derived from painter-decorators rather than painters, Wool has made a pattern which is replicated across the entirety of the surface, often with slight variations in the density of the ink or unevenness of its application. He deliberately undermines the expressive potential of the visual language of painting, resulting in an image that is instead largely inscrutable, yet which upon closer inspection reveals teasing glimpses into the actions and movements of its creator, resulting in a complex and unresolved game of feints and veils. Wool presents the floral pattern in such a way that it becomes a form of barrier rather than a window, recalling the ironwork fences echoed in some of his paintings from the period. In this way, the artist ensures that his work remains intriguingly opaque, a continuing and enticing mystery. As John Caldwell has written:
    ‘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 C. Brinson, ‘Trouble is my Business’, pp. 35-51, C. Brinson (ed.), Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York, 2014, p. 35.)



signed and dated 'Wool '89' on the reverse
enamel on Suzuki paper
94 x 61 cm. (37 x 24 in.)
Executed in 1989.

HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Contact Specialist
Jonathan Crockett
Deputy Chairman, Asia and Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Asia
+852 2318 2023

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department
+852 2318 2011

Sandy Ma
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2025

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018