Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Richard Gray Gallery, New York
    Blain Southern, London
    Private Collection

  • Catalogue Essay

    You take color out, you take gesture out – and then later you can put them in. But it’s easier to define things by what they’re not than by what they are.

    (Christopher Wool, in “Artists in Conversation I,” in Birth of the Cool, Zurich: Kunsthaus Zurich, 1997, p. 34).

    Christopher Wool’s Untitled (P 492), 2005, with its arabesque strokes and bold lines, explores expression through an intricate and vast landscape of gesture and material. The rich surface of the present lot is achieved using the simple means of a spray gun. The plunging lines that dash across the crimson surface, combined with thick clouds of washed pigment, conceal and reveal the pure background as they move across the canvas together. The gestural forms are intermittently broken apart by bolder sprays that snake above, below, and through the nebulous masses of burgundy pigment. The current lot comes from a body of recent works, predominantly untitled and executed in a stark monochromatic palette, that encapsulate Wool’s long history of mark-making and erasure. Untitled (P 492), 2005, illustrates the clear and resonant progression Wool has made over his three-decade long career as it catapults the tradition of painting to new heights.

    Wool’s thoughtful and intelligent process is thoroughly seductive. Untitled (P 492), 2005, is comprised of a multitude of sanguine layers, each dangerously challenging the definitions of gesture and material, thickness and flatness, application and erasure, color and purity. The highly concentrated area in the center of the picture quickly evolves into nothingness as the bare canvas is revealed along the edges of the composition. The erratic sprayed lines perhaps comprise a phrase or drawing; however, the washes of pigment conceal any legible message. A ghostly presence is exuded from the thinly veiled sections as if Wool washed the areas of their once viscous covering. The canvas seems tainted in some areas and absolved in others. The visual impact of Wool’s profoundly ardent and introspective dance across the canvas is reminiscent of the tenants of Abstract Expressionism. While the visual impact of the theatrical gestures stylistically parallels those of his predecessors, the flesh of the surface reveals an exciting tension between visual presence and physical surface.

    The tousled masses of cardinal lines and pigment are both exceedingly fluid and resonantly solid. The washes of crimson, abstracted representations and bold spray painted lines charge the canvas with confidence and flair– typical only of Christopher Wool’s brash image-making. While the famed text– SEX, LUV, RUNDOGEATDOG– is absent from the present work, the daring panache of the washes of pigment and lines function as their own silent command of the surface. To this effect, an urban connotation is thinly veiled; the canvas evokes the remnants of graffiti, or more pointedly, the appearance of a graffitied shop window. Inspired by his environment, Untitled (P 492), 2005, is indexical of a hurried gesture, evident through its subsequent erasure, a desecrated surface awash in solvent film. The colorful and gestural vocabulary of Untitled (P 492), 2005, proclaims its own omnipotent stance that challenges the confrontation that Wool’s text usually implies. Even without the bold dripping text, the lines are as provocative as the stenciled letters. Wool defines a new wave by embracing the modus operandi of the grand gestures of Abstract Expressionism and situating it within contemporary urban encounters. In doing so, the artist manifests a work that helps redefine the making of a picture and skewers the contributions of the post-war generation.

    Wool’s technique of color application and erasure conveys a fluidity that spreads excitedly across the canvas with vigorous theatricality. While the screening process is mechanically created and does not directly employ the artist’s hand, the visual element of Wool’s painting is infused with poetic gesture. The sinewy lines, while created through the mechanization of the spray gun, are controlled by the artist. Generous brushstrokes move across the canvas in satisfying contrast with more concentrated applications of paint. The union of spray painted lines and cloaks of thick brushstrokes conveys a dynamic compositional interweaving of texture and viscosity. Additionally, Wool works with a reduced palette; in Untitled (P 492), 2005, varying degrees of a single crimson hue are employed. By excluding vibrant color and raised texture, Wool invites the viewer to soak in the omnipotence of gesture, form and space.

    Rather than simply existing as a representational or conceptual piece, or a constellation of mere symbols, Untitled (P 492), 2005, represents a highly systematic, intellectual challenge that lies at the core of Christopher Wool’s artistic practice. Within Untitled (P 492), 2005, lies a tension between creation and destruction in the building of a composition. The work is carefully constructed, only for parts of it to be wiped away. Layers of burgundy and white tone are built up, with one style of brush stroke
    or spray gesture wiping out the last, the whole only to be silkscreened over once more and the process repeated. The deception of this process comes in the final appearance of the super-flat quality of his finished work. The outcome, while seemingly a random amalgamation of line and tone quality, is in fact a highly methodical abstraction.

    “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.’” (M. Grynsztejn, “Unfinished Business,” Christopher Wool, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 265).



silkscreen ink on linen
104 x 78 in. (264.2 x 198.1 cm)
Signed, numbered, and dated “Wool, 2005, P 492” on the reverse of the backing board.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,202,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

15 November 2012
New York