Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    “If you take text and image and you put them together, the multiple readings that are possible in either poetry or in something visual are reduced to one specific reading.
    By putting the two together, you limit the possibilities.”

    One of the most seminal New York artists to emerge from the 1980s, Christopher Wool’s inspirations range from the socially conscious graffiti of SAMO to the origins of punk rock. His work has since found a variety of mediums and technique that suit its myriad messages, including spray paint, silkscreen, and Wool’s own hand painting. But Wool’s most recognizable series is undoubtedly his word-stenciling, in which the stark contrast between enormous block lettering and white canvas evokes true urban grit, violence, and iconicity. Gaining prominence just as New York City was experiencing a boom in crime and disease, Wool’s Word paintings have come to symbolize both sex and humor in a time when one was demonized and the other declared useless in the face of more pressing issues. And If, 1992 serves as a shining example of Wool’s minimalism, a bright work following a harrowing decade.

    After a serendipitous encounter with a delivery truck in the early 1980s, Wool appropriated the stenciled words that it bore, “SEX LUV”, for his own work. He was soon concentrating on the myriad double meanings and homophological properties of everyday phraseology, as prolific as he was exploratory. Wool’s manipulation of his texts
    were both frequent and purposeful, as he would frequently exclude vowels or employ alliteration in order to make his words exhibit Pop fair. In doing so, he commands the
    viewer to fill in the holes that he himself has drilled, allowing a wealth of interpretation on the observer’s part. As opposed to the Pop Art sensibility of his predecessors, Wool chose the appropriation of the urban backdrop over the portrayal of consumer goods, where the disjointed scrawls of graffiti, club signage, and shorthand echo their origins without betraying their sources. And, isolating his text upon the canvas, Wool lends focus to the letter as a pictorial element.

    The oversize letters of And If, 1992 leap of the white canvas, uncompromising in their bid for the viewer’s attention. While the message is clearly explicit, the overall meaning remains somewhat ambiguous. The participants in this graphic dialogue are anonymous to the viewer, and so the abruptly harsh comment becomes just another frank exchange lifted from the infinitely similar dialogues of everyday New York City. This type of blunt message is similarly featured in other Word paintings by Wool, with such statements as “Fuck em if they can’t take a joke” (FUCKEM, 1992) or “If you can’t take a joke you can get the fuck out of my house” (If You, 1992). Wool’s use of lettering and his purposeful exclusion of spacing creates a daunting atmosphere for the phrase presented. Nearly bursting out of their frame, the letters of Wool’s profanity highlight the air-tight parameters of the canvas, giving the words a sense of emergence from the background, assaulting the viewer with their insistent declaration. This sense of threat is bolstered by the typeface; similar to the stenciled font assumed by the United States military after the Second World War, Wool’s
    lettering matches the military’s functional no-frills sensibility, and, compounded with its physical size, the phrase creates a sense of austere—and almost violent—authority.

    Wool’s use of text is monumental in his choice of technique. Through emphasizing the figure and physicality of the letters themselves as opposed to the word as only a semiotic, Wool furthers the work of Warhol and Lichtenstein, proving that every letter is a recognizable object itself. In addition, And If, 1992 is the perfect example of Wool’s uncompromising attitude toward the viewer, breaking the lettering into many disjointed columns, requiring the problem solving skills of the observer in order for his message to be seen and read. Furthermore, by removing the spaces between the words and refusing to recognize each word as a discrete entity, Wool has turned a statement into a picture, ultimately forming a hieroglyphic of which the meaning is clear. There is also a clear humor within Wool’s piece: his presentation of the letters evokes a sense of instability on the speaker’s part, a shaking fury which sounds threatening but is simultaneously entertaining to witness. For all of these reasons, Wool’s work, epitomized in the present lot solidifies the pictorial powers of the printed word.

    But it is Wool’s ambiguity that affords his work the most evocative power. The viewer is left to contemplate whether the words in And If, 1992 are literal or figurative, a threat or a simple joke. On the surface, it is clear that we should probably vacate the premises. But, amidst the compelling pleasures of Wood’s painting, why would we want to?


And If

enamel on aluminum
52 x 36 in. (135 X 90 cm.)
Signed, titled, inscribed and dated “AND IF, S92, WOOL 1992” on the reverse.

$3,500,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for $4,085,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 16 May 2013 7pm