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    "With their velvety white grounds and stylized letters rendered in dense, sign painter’s enamel that pooled and dripped within the stencils, the word paintings have a resolute material presence that transcends the graphic."
    —Katherine Brinson

     

    Formerly a gift from the artist to the late famed writer Glenn O’Brien, Blue Fool is a singular example of Christopher Wool’s highly coveted body of Word paintings created between 1987 and 1992. Executed in 1990, the present work depicts one of the artist’s signature slogans in an intimately sized composition. Encapsulating Wool’s masterful ability to coalesce the language of graffiti with the concerns of conceptual art, Blue Fool oscillates between textuality and visuality to exemplify the deeper, complex modes of communication, representation, and meaning that dominate the core of the artist’s renowned practice.

     

     

    Bruce Nauman, None Sing Neon Sign, 1970. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Image: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Bruce Nauman, None Sing Neon Sign, 1970. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Image: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

     

    The artist’s word paintings situate Wool within a lineage of artists who have employed textual codes in their imagery to engage semiotics through compositional presentation, from René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp to his contemporaries including Ed Ruscha, Barbara Kruger, and Jenny Holzer. Reflecting Wool’s emergence against the backdrop of the 1980s New York art scene, the present work embodies how amidst the Conceptualists’ use of language, “Wool made it new,” as Peter Schjeldahl observed. “He merged the anonymous aggression of graffiti with the stateliness of formal abstract painting.”i Blue Fool perfectly encapsulates this painterly quality about Wool’s signature style, as the enamel oozes beyond the precise borders of the stenciled letters.

     

    Wool, like his contemporary Jean-Michel Basquiat, drew inspiration from New York’s graffitied streets. One of the earlier advocates and collectors of the artist’s work, Glenn O’Brien—an icon of New York’s cultural fabric in the 1970s and 1980s who frequently collaborated with Andy Warhol, Madonna, Basquiat, and Wool, among other critical figures—articulated this comparison. “Jean-Michel Basquiat loved the do-it-yourself bilingual bricolage esthetic of Alphabet City, the district of improvisational bootstrap enterprise. Wool, another far-Eastsider, has a similar romance with fringe New York, the no man’s land, the interzone, the DMZ, and the ruins of concrete jungle. Where Basquiat gleaned pop cues from that world, Wool finds an alphabet of symbolic abstractions. Here is the action painting of the unconscious—accidental splashes and streaks that mark fields of blighted architecture.”ii

     

    "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

     

     

    René Magritte, La clef des songes (The Key to Dreams), 1927. Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich, Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    René Magritte, La clef des songes (The Key to Dreams), 1927. Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich, Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

     

    Wool’s word paintings were conceived out of an iconic moment during the artist’s early career in a now-legendary account. While living in the Lower East Side of New York City in 1987, Wool serendipitously encountered a new white truck with the words “SEX LUV” graffitied on its surface. Moved by the striking simplicity of the image and its ability to convey visual force, he appropriated the phrase for his own work, laying the foundation for what would become his trademark technique—large dark letters stenciled upon a stark white background. Manifesting an exceptional example of the artist’s rare employment of color in his practice, the dark blue rendering of the bold block lettering starkly contrasts with the white ground to connote urban grit and iconicity.

     

    Belonging to Wool’s first body of word paintings, the work depicts each letter of the word “FOOL” segmented into a four-part grid. By deconstructing the word and isolating its individual components, Wool compels the viewer to focus on the letters as purely visual elements. Seen through this lens, the shapes operating on the surface ironically conjure his own name—and deliberately so, as the artist has acknowledged that his rendering of the word functions in part as a self-portrait.iii In such compositions, Wool at once destabilizes words of their communicative utility and allows for a multiplicity of meanings to rise from the surface, through the literal and conceptual spaces in between. In the words of O’Brien, “Slowly and surely Christopher Wool has reinvented abstraction and devised a radical new way of working that partakes in the clarity and the heroism, but in a way that is shockingly novel and perhaps heretically casual.”iv

     

     

    i Peter Schjeldahl, “Writing on the Wall,” The New Yorker, November 4, 2013, online.

    ii Glenn O’Brien, “Apocalypse and Wallpaper” in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 13.

    iii Katherine Brinson, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 41.

    iv Glenn O’Brien, “Apocalypse and Wallpaper” in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 10.

    • Provenance

      Glenn O’Brien (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner via Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago

    • Exhibited

      London, Simon Lee Gallery, Family Guy (curated by Kenny Schachter), October 3-20, 2018

34

Blue Fool

signed, titled, dedicated and dated "BLUE FOOL FOR GLEN WOOL 1990" on the reverse
enamel on aluminum
12 x 7 7/8 in. (30.5 x 20 cm)
Executed in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,179,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021