Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art London Friday, October 13, 2006 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York; Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco

  • Exhibited

    Paris, La maison rouge-Fondation Antoine de Galbert, Central Station: la collection Harald Falckenberg, October 22, 2004 – January 23, 2005, p. 12 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    B. Brock and Z. Zdenek, Pump Haus : Sammlung Falckenberg, Hamburg, 2001, p. 134 (illustrated); L. Dreyfus and Maison rouge-Fondation Antoine de Galbert, Central Station: la collection Harald Falckenberg, Paris, 2004, p. 12 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The world according to Christopher Wool is a place on the edge of disintegration, just as his sentences and sentence fragments are examples of no-nonsense words on the verge of turning into totally nonsensical syllables. (R. Storr, On the Edge, New York, 1997, p. 136). Whether it is through his early drip paintings, stamped image works, or his text paintings, Wool has continually been able to create work that engages some of the most important and pressing issues facing artists of the Twentieth Century. As a Contemporary artist he has pushed the boundaries of how to demonstrate the basic possibilities of visual expression; in particular the special and difficult to define qualities associated with painting. In his paintings Wool addresses the role of the ornament as signifier and decoration without taking a stand on this. “How much we depend on language to order experience is obvious from such exercises as deliberately disordering spelling syntax and implied utterance.” (ibid)

    “[Christopher Wool’s] interest in working with words was first manifested in concrete poems, as well as in titles for abstract paintings. Having seen a brand new, white truck with the words ‘SEX LUV’ hand-painted on the side, he started to work with compositions derived from stenciled words, the first a small drawing alternating the words ‘sex’ and ‘luv’ in a stacked composition. The first painting was a play on the words ‘trojan horse,’ dropping the ‘a’ in Trojan and the ‘e’ in the horse. These first so-called ‘word’ paintings focused on words or expressions with multiple meanings, particularly as they are broken up in composition, repeated, or modified or abbreviated through the deletion of letters: ‘helter helter’, and longer texts drawn from expressions originating in popular culture, such as Muhammad Ali’s proclamation ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’,” (A. Goldstein, Christopher Wool, Los Angeles/Zurich, 1998, p. 260).

    The linguistic gamesmanship Wool engages in has a long and complicated history. Its antecedents include the Dadaist practice of cutting texts up, letting the pieces fall onto a piece of paper, and then gluing them into place to create new texts. Such anticompositional techniques of the teens and 20’s were further developed by the lettrists of the 50’s and 60’s, who reduced the basic structures of language to a rubble of isolated sounds, and , performing them aloud, turned Dada’s babble into ear-grating squawks. In more recent history there have been the contributions of conceptual grammarians such as Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth, and the haunting wordplays of Bruce Nauman, with which Wool’s paintings share a marked verbal and emotional affinity. (R. Storr, ibid, p. 136)

    Wool considered his mature work to have started in 1984 when he began to focus and investigate the basic process of painting. Over the coming years his stylistic tastes changed and developed. By 1989 he was creating textual pieces that dealt with the abstraction of familiar phrases and words. In his text paintings Wool makes it possible to quite literally read the writing on the handwriting on the wall. The viewer is confronted with a work that can be experienced on multiple levels. On one level the words and phrases at the root of the work are familiar to the viewer but they must be discovered after deciphering a wonderfully complex all-over abstraction. Madeleine Grynsztejn elaborates on this by stating,

    “Christopher Wool’s “word” paintings “beat on the very crux of symbolic meaning, through their focus on language. That the predominant pictorial elements in these paintings are words only complicates this art’s purported intent to clearly “speak,” for inherent in any viewer’s reception is the experiential fact of reading and looking as simultaneously exclusive acts. The word as plastic material – as shape, medium, and color – will always rub against the word as syntax and conjurer of mental images. Wool deliberately choreographs a collision between different components of language – grammatical, semantic, visual, imaginary, and spoken – that conveys an emotional magnitude beyond the range of everyday speech and closer in spirit to the true proportions of Wool’s subject; the inherent inefficacy and near-constant failure of language. These paintings may contain words – the building blocks by which we identify, analyze, and enunciate – but instead of information, we are given a physical record of disarticulation.” (M. Grynsztejn taken from Unfinished Business in A. Goldstein, Christopher Wool, Los Angeles, 1999, p. 267)

    In the present lot, Riot, the letters comprising the word produce clear sequences, that are flattened to an almost ornamental level. The work can be interpreted on a number of levels. One, that they are a complete abnegation of pictorial representation, finding their apex in linguistic concepts and ultimately in chopped-up words. And conversely, the refusal opens up through the uneven, proliferating print of the dripping contour of the letters whose inference is retained in spite of coding or dismembering of the word or phrase. What was once devoid of meaning becomes overloaded with it both in terms of concept and in a decorative sense. (U. Grosenick and B. Riemschneider, Art At The Turn of the Millennium, Cologne, p. 550.) As a contemporary artist working in the new Millennium Christopher Wool’s past and present works have greatly contributed to moving Contemporary art an important step toward taking a hold of and incorporating the realities of modern life.


Untitled (Riot)

Alkyd on rice paper.
74 x 36 in. (188 x 93.05 cm).
Stamped lower left “Wool”.

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £198,400

Contemporary Art

14 Oct 2006, 7pm