Christopher Wool - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Christopher Wool, 'Untitled', Lot 27

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

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

  • Exhibited

    Cologne, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Christopher Wool: Zeichnungen, June 6 - July 4, 1992

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The chosen words and phrases are All-American mantras, knucklehead koans, idiot ideograms. They are about conventional wisdom, common knowledge and default settings. They are compressed and concentrated like Alka Seltzer or Pez. They are bricks. Clunky, dangerous, mass-produced, but no two exactly alike and their composition on the canvas or page or slab puts them under a philological, microscope” – Glenn O’Brien

    In Untitled Christopher Wool presents what has now become one of the most iconic phrases in contemporary art in his signature deadpan style. Emerging from the 1980s New York art scene, Wool has become renowned for his ability to coalesce the language of graffiti with the concerns of conceptual art. Potently graphic and linguistically antagonistic, Untitled encapsulates the bluntness of Wool’s creative mission which, since the 1980s, has been focusing on the parameters and pictorial limitations of painting. With his stenciled text he began to engage with the concept of semiotics and the potential for compositional presentation to aid or subvert interpretation and meaning. Executed in 1992, this work typifies the artist’s experimentation with communication and its disruption through visual and verbal means. A rare example of the artist’s utilization of color in his practice, the text featured here is rendered in dark blue, making the block lettering that comprises the composition’s verbal content starkly contrast with the white ground to connote urban grit, aggression, and iconicity.

    The present work unites two of the most instrumental threads in the artist’s practice: text and silkscreen. Wool began exploring the use of text in his work in 1987. After serendipitously seeing a delivery truck with the words “SEX LUV” painted on it, he appropriated the phrase for his own work. Using large stencils to spell out pointed or confrontational phrases, often without conventional spacing or syntax, Wool’s art seemingly paid more of an homage to the disjointed scrawls of graffiti or club signage of the gritty urban environment of his native New York than to the canon of high art. However, while it employs an incisive vernacular culled from the underbelly of American culture, it also quotes a lineage of artists who similarly used familiar codes and images to shock their audience—an artistic mission most poignantly embodied by Marcel Duchamp’s ingeniously insolent oeuvre, and his infamous L.H.O.O.Q, which transformed acronymic language into a farcical arena.

    Wool’s turn to silkscreen was also rooted in his urban experience. Growing out of his use of rollers and rubber stamps during the late 1980s that was inspired by cheap interior decoration tricks used by the city’s landlords, Wool took repetition and seriality one step further in 1992 when he first turned to silkscreen. As opposed to the Pop Art sensibilities of his predecessors, his choice of the technique drew from the urban backdrop over the portrayal of consumer goods, echoing their vernacular origins without betraying their sources.

    In works such as Untitled Wool continues his exploration of themes of figurative seriality and abstraction through the milieu of industrial materials and procedures. Retaining the remnants of the hard, layered edges of his letters, Wool has interrupted the stencil’s impressions with smudges. This unconventional use of the stencil technique is only further enhanced by his choice to work on paper in the present work, the materiality of which encourages an absorption of paint that is not present in his works on aluminum from the same period. The slippages he has allowed to occur through his mechanical process only enhance the visual complexity of his composition, adding his own artistic intent to the surface of the work. As Wool would later go on to explain, “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).

    In the present work, Wool has broken up the letters and spaces that constitute the phrase AND IF YOU CANT TAKE A JOKE YOU CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE into a grid that is divorced from linguistic comprehension, compelling the viewer to actively engage with the work. By isolating the text, Wool lends focus to the letters as purely visual elements. Seemingly ready to burst out of the compositional frame, the letters that make up this profane declaration highlight the work’s physical parameters, giving the words a sense of emergence from the background and assaulting the viewer with their insistence.

    The present work foregrounds Wool’s ability to elicit the pictorial powers of the printed word through grit and humor. As Christian Haye aptly noted soon after the execution of Untitled, “His is a gangster aesthetic: grim, business-like, poker-faced, blunt. Yet… as if lurking behind their tight-lipped facades were something like a wink, a tip-off to viewers of some colossal unfolding scam. This is art with a gun in its back” (Christian Haye, “Myth and Man”, Frieze, issue 20, January – February 1995).



signed, numbered and dated "WOOL 1992 F45" on the reverse
enamel on paper
38 x 26 in. (96.5 x 66 cm.)
Executed in 1992.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,420,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019