Christopher Wool - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Private Collection, California
    Haunch of Venison, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2010

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Museum of Art; Kunsthalle Basel, Christopher Wool, July 18, 1998 - May 30, 1999, no. 139, pp. 246, 289 (illustrated, p. 139)

  • Literature

    Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 420 (illustrated, p. 179)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I became more interested in 'how to paint it' than 'what to paint'." — Christopher Wool

    Pulsating with characteristic anarchistic vigor, Christopher Wool’s Untitled (S134), 1996, celebrates the full range of innovation that the artist deployed in his reinvigoration of the genre of painting during the late 1980s and early 1990s. With a sly nod to Andy Warhol’s Flowers, 1964, here Wool plays on the larger themes of seriality and abstraction that had thus dominated the legacies of post-war American art. In Untitled (S134), Wool has built up a complex composition in pitch-black enamel using the diverse visual language of his career up to this point: stenciled floral patterns reminiscent of his first works from the late 1980s mingle with screen-printed floral motifs. Wool has intentionally made visible the breakdown and slippage contingent in his artistic process, letting the rectangular frame that remained from the dragging of the silkscreen from the aluminum panel to become a compositional device in its own right, hovering, somewhat misaligned, on top of the floral palimpsest. Wool countered the mechanized silkscreen process synonymous with Pop Art by obscuring this imagery with graffiti-like loops that forcefully explode across the vast panel, injecting the composition with a palpable energy. Untitled (S134) is one of the first works in which Wool radically introduced this entirely freehand gesture. Applied with a spray gun, the looping line simultaneously evokes the painterly gestures of the Abstract Expressionists and the act of graffiti vandalism. Untitled (S134) was notably celebrated as one of the key examples of Wool’s oeuvre at the artist’s solo exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and the Kunsthalle Basel in 1998-1999. As Ann Goldstein, curator of that show, eloquently postulated, “Through process, technique, scale, composition, and imagery, Wool’s work accentuates the tensions and contradictions between the act of painting, the construction of a picture, its physical attributes, the visual experience of looking at it, and the possibilities of playing with and pushing open the thresholds of its meanings. They are defined by what they’re not – and what they hold back” (Ann Goldstein, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 263).

    Untitled (S134) builds on Wool’s series of ornamental motif paintings that introduced many of the key tenets of the artist’s pioneering practice. Influenced by the raw energy of the Punk and New Wave scenes in New York City in the 1970s, Wool set out to explore the possibilities of painting at a time when it had been proclaimed dead. He achieved his defining breakthrough between 1986 and 1987 with his all-over pattern compositions that took as a frame of reference the wall embellishments of floral and geometric patterns populating the hallways of New York tenement buildings, which were applied with rollers as an economical alternative to wallpaper. Fascinated with this urban vernacular, Wool identified the paint roller, and soon after the rubber stamp, as the ideal formal repertoire to collapse any distinction between the physical process of creation and its visual content. Sidestepping the historical baggage surrounding painting, Wool radically merged the post-minimalist emphasis on process with the strategies of replication and cultural piracy that defined the work of conceptual contemporary peers such a Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman. As is characteristic for Wool’s flower paintings from the 1990s, Untitled (S134) also includes larger, similarly generic, floral imagery extracted from books of computer clip art. While Wool’s use of flowers has been viewed as purposefully banal, in reference to the subject matter of the traditional floral still-life, the subject matter of the ready-made imagery was irrelevant to Wool. As Wool explains, “I became more interested in 'how to paint it' than 'what to paint'” (Christopher Wool, quoted in Ann Goldstein, “Interview with the Artist 17 October 1997”, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 258).

    Demonstrating Wool’s embrace of the silkscreening process from 1993 onwards, Untitled (S134) illustrates the transition in Wool’s oeuvre from the all-over repetition of his earlier work to more subjective compositional choices. The more controlled mediation of imagery achieved through silkscreening allowed for the layering of multiple screenings, offering Wool the possibility of creating dense palimpsests of imagery without giving any one motif particularly prominence. At the same time, Wool, like his artistic forebear Warhol, embraces the disordering operations of chance that arose from the slippages that inevitably occur during the process. While inviting parallels to Warhol’s oeuvre both in subject matter and technique, “The banality that one associates with Andy Warhol’s silkscreened flowers is overwhelmed by the grittiness of Wool’s intense and seemingly out-of-control compositions. The first silkscreen works continue the additive process by laying black flower images on top of each other” (Ann Goldstein, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 262).

    The conflation of imagery into a congealing abstract whole is further heightened by the painterly gestures that explode across the surface, obscuring the underlying strata of imagery. As art critic Joshua Decter observed of Wool’s body of work at the time, “Wool offers us access to a world where things are layered to the point of implosion, where iconographic elements are built up only to virtually fall apart. These recent paintings are also his most emphatically "painterly" to date: the more Wool endeavors to blot out, the more complex things get” (Joshua Decter, "Christopher Wool: Luhring Augustine Gallery", Artforum, no. 34, September 1995, p. 89). Simultaneously building on and breaking with the artistic precedents of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism, Wool has here brilliantly fused the abstract and the figurative, the objective and the expressive into one cohesive whole.

Property of an Important North East Collector


Untitled (S134)

signed, titled and dated "Wool 1996 Untitled (S134)" on the reverse
enamel on aluminum
54 x 40 in. (137.2 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1996.

$3,000,000 - 4,000,000 

Sold for $3,735,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017