Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine & Hodes Gallery, New York
    Dan Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles
    Sale: Christie’s, New York, Contemporary Art, May 18, 2001, lot 428
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    These pictures are the aesthetic outgrowth of a deeply personal mode of being in the world, wherein authentic experience, while difficult to achieve, remains not only possible, but urgently and inescapably necessary.

    (M. Grynsztejn, “Unfinished Business”, Christopher Wool, edited by Ann Goldstein, New York, 1998, p. 271).

    Christopher Wool’s work of the past three decades has cemented him as one of contemporary art’s greatest stylistic chameleons. Simultaneously employing a variety of appropriated symbol, original medium, and unique application in his work as a painter, Wool’s critical success has been the result of trailblazing new forms of expression in an age oversaturated with communication. Though many have hailed Wool as the successor to Andy Warhol in his work’s wry Pop sensibility, Wool’s art puts forth a power in its simplicity that no other artist could possibly replicate. Reorienting the viewer’s mind to the beauty of an over-reproduced visual trope, Wool pulls us back from the brink of meaninglessness in modern culture. In the present lot, Untitled (P 66), 1988, Wool employs one of his favorite tropes, the flower, in a pithy tribute to our favorite decorative symbol.

    Gaining a reputation as the quintessential New York artist of the mid-1980s, Wool has come to embody a profound voice of optimism in a time of what many perceive to be the devaluation of human interaction. Wool’s signature irreverence rendered in stylized black and white surfaces, compounded with the enormous block letters upon them, has become some of the defining images of the last three decades. Wool also began his use of the visual trope in this period. Employing a German designer to create an incredibly familiar yet completely original motif, Wool would then use it to his discretion on his surfaces. The result is a piece that rings of a deep familiarity with the viewer; while the symbol itself is new, the concept of utilizing a single symbol to a decorative end is not—we frequently witness this inundation of visual symbol in our wallpaper, fabric surfaces, and other mundane fields of viewing. Wool’s power is to isolate each symbol upon his surface, highlighting the selfsufficiency of the symbol to act as an artistic phenomenon.

    The present lot, Wool’s Untitled (P 66), 1988, bears a poignant visual paradox for the viewer. The first conflicting aspect of its visual appeal is its stark simplicity and regularity. Upon an aluminum panel six by four feet in height, Wool sets twelve floral motifs in four rows of three, duplicating what might as well be a section of wallpaper in the common home, where regularity directs our visual concentration to the objects and people moving throughout the room, rather that the lining that adorns it. Wool’s symbolism, at first glance, in the simple and pleasing shape of a flower, is what most of us perceive to be an equally mindless and pleasing aesthetic when placed throughout the house.

    The other aspect of Wool’s visual appeal, however, is his adjoining spirit of detail. Upon close inspection, the floral motif reveals its intense intricacies. It is a branch made up of five blossoms, each with their own qualities of saturation and density. As Warhol captivated the viewer with repetition, Wool uses a similar principle here: that a recurring symbol can differ in each incarnation, a tribute to the process in which it was made. And, as each motif expresses a different personality, Wool emphasizes the importance of each individual bunch of flowers.

    The relationship between Wool’s three materials—aluminum, alkyd, and flashe paint—is somewhat violent, yet wholly symbiotic. While the alkyd possesses acidic qualities that literally burn and corrode the metallic surface of the piece, the flashe paint, in its indelibility, eats its way into the aluminum, becoming permanent. This relationship between the paint and the surface gives the piece a sculptural physicality, as the deep cuts of the alkyd add a third dimension to the painting. In the end, each group of flowers is burned into the aluminum surface, battling the idea that a surface can be stripped and replaced at will. The power of this technical process and Wool’s employment of a single motif is to deny the floral symbol its mundane function as decoration: “Although they came from the world of ornamentation, these motifs were stripped of any decorative, symbolic, or descriptive quality, unlike what had been done by the ‘pattern painting’ of the seventies, which emphasized the decorative aspects that Modernism had set out to discredit.”(M. Paz, “Christopher Wool”, Christopher Wool, Strasbourg, p. 201).

    Wool’s comparisons to Andy Warhol and the Pop process of print-making mainly comes from its technical similarity in production: “Perhaps the most interesting similarity between Wool and Warhol is their work-oriented approach to art making. Warhol was more blatant in this regard, working out of a ‘Factory’ in a mode that directly reflected and commented on post-war consumer production. Nevertheless, Warhol’s silkscreen paintings are labor intensive, and Wool’s technique likewise demands a sustained attention and handiwork.” (M. Grynsztejn, “Unfinished Business”, Christopher Wool, Edited by Ann Goldstein, New York, 1998, p. 269). However, Wool’s aims in his art are not simply to replicate and reproduce, but to kindly ask the viewer to establish a connection with the type of symbol he has long since written off as meaningless or boring.

    Yet we also see, in the present lot, Wool’s eternal debt, as well as antagonistic position towards Pop Art. The appearance of Untitled (P 66), 1988, initially strikes a majestic tone, the aluminum support providing a surface industrial in its structure but perfectly suited for Wool’s subtle parody of “factory art”. Wool’s genius comes in his choice not to use decorative motifs from existing wallpaper or sources of mundane Americana, but his preference of employing an original and never-before-used motif. He undermines our tendency to glance and move on. Instead, we can take a long, hard look at Wool’s flowers, and note their obvious, blooming beauty.


Untitled (P 66)

alkyd and flashe on aluminum panel
72 x 48 in. (182.9 x 121.9 cm)
Signed, titled, and dated “WOOL 1988, UNTITLED (P 66)” on the reverse.

$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $722,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York