Christopher Wool - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, March 7, 2017 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
    Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Santa Monica
    Leo Koenig Inc., New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Oscillating between the abstract and the figurative, the majestic black eagles of Christopher Wool’s 1989 Untitled appear suspended in mid-air against a white smooth aluminium surface. The monochrome black eagle, one of the artist’s most instantly recognisable motifs, is an exemplary design of the artist’s pivotal rubber stamp series. The repetitious nature of the composition pushes the boundaries of image production and reproduction in contemporary art, stressing the artist’s intellectual engagement with conceptual artistic discourse.

    At plain sight one is exposed with a patterned-canvas of six seemingly-identical eagles. Yet closer inspection reveals a subtly sophisticated process where no two birds are identical. Through the use of large-format rubber stamps, the imagery is kept uniform whilst the application of paint is altered with each impression. The undeviating pattern is thus contrasted with the subtle variation of paint, in turn stressing the importance of the artist’s technique. As Ann Goldstein explains, '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 in exh. cat., Christopher Wool, Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), 1998, p. 263). In an exploration of the relationship between painting and process, Wool’s rubber stamp paintings must thus be understood in terms of the picture-making method. This attention to methodology is strongly reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s own developments in silkscreen printing decades earlier. In a similar attention to process Warhol’s ambition was for himself, as an artist, to become as machine-like as possible. To achieve this goal, the artist partook in the creation of repeatedly printed motifs, from dollar signs to flowers, which in turn became a metaphor for the mass media pop culture invading the United States in the 1950s and 60s.

    The 1980s marked the beginning of Wool’s mature artistic practice. The rubber stamp paintings, exemplified in the present work, are regarded as a continuation of the rubber roller series, a practice previously employed by the artist in the early 1980s. Selecting banal, recognisable imagery, including flowers, dots or clovers, Wool printed uninterrupted patterns without an apparent beginning or end. Commonly used to apply decorative wallpaper patterns to walls, Wool made use of the process to print these seemingly arbitrary objects on canvas. This process has later been developed by artists such as Rudolf Stingel, who, through an application of paint using a fine stencil, creates wallpaper designs, equally achieving a patterned outcome from relentless repetition.

    Wool’s advancements in contemporary picture making came at a difficult time for the art world. Propelled by the global economic growth, the collapse of state-sponsored socialism and an accelerated modernisation, the art world of the 1980s had received a strong critical and conclusive declaration from art historian Douglas Crimp, who declared ‘The End of Painting’. However, through Wool’s innovative use of the medium, appropriating decorative wallpaper tools such as the rubber roller or the rubber stamp, he decisively achieved an expansion of the definition of painting, accentuating the longevity of the medium as opposed to its professed mortality.

    Wool’s rubber stamp series additionally present a dialogue between utilitarian design and unique artistic creation. Since Ancient Rome and throughout history, the eagle has been used as a symbol, sculpted and printed in flags with the purpose of characterising power and strength. Stripping ornamental or symbolic designs from their practical purpose, Wool gives them a new place within contemporary artistic discourse. In Untitled , Wool succeeds in removing all symbolic value inherent to the image of the eagle and in turn places the printed image within the realm of the conceptual. Thus, despite the present work’s aesthetic resemblance to the figurative, and being ‘excruciatingly aware of the taboo status of gestural mark-making as an index of self-expression, Wool was nonetheless compelled to explore whatever space was left within abstraction for a critical practice’ (Katherine Brinson, “Trouble is My Business,” in exh. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 2013, p. 37).

    As John Caldwell clarifies, ‘since the repeated pattern has no inherent meaning and no strong association, we tend to view its variation largely in terms of abstraction, expecting to find in the changes of the pattern some of the meaning we associate with traditional abstract painting' (John Caldwell, “New Work: Christopher Wool”, in New Work: Christopher Wool. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1989, n.p.). By removing all symbolic value from the traditional figure of the eagle, a new genre is essentially created in which the artist combines strong elements of both figurative and abstract art.

    Working with rubber stamps, Wool considered the associative possibilities of decorative imagery in a truly evocative manner. The emblematic nature of Untitled is unparalleled in Wool’s oeuvre. Portraying the motif of an eagle through the use of the artist’s signature rubber stamp process, the present work is of a most superior value, both artistically and conceptually.



signed and dated 'WOOL 1989' on the reverse
acrylic on aluminium
243.9 x 183 cm (96 x 72 in.)
Painted in 1989.

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for £1,205,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2017 5pm GMT