Christopher Wool - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011

  • Exhibited

    Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Christopher Wool, 30 March - 19 August 2012, p. 37 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘Long story short: Reincarnation. What Christopher has done with silkscreen has made the medium whole again. He has taught an old dog new tricks’ (Richard Prince, ‘Wool’, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2014, p. 238).

    A striking example of Christopher Wool’s large-scale abstractions, Untitled, 2009, provides exceptional insight into the artist’s visual syntax, spanning the luxurious aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism and the arresting countenance of urban vandalism. Introducing silkscreen paintings into his oeuvre in 1993, Wool manipulates, erases and layers fragments of found imagery before digitally amalgamating them into a single mass of congruent forms. A trademark of the artist’s highly focused practice, these configurations of amorphous patterns are held in tension between construction and destruction, conjuring a final image that professes no pictorial resolution. Testament to the significance of the work within his oeuvre, another example from the present series, Untitled, 2009, was acquired by the Tate Collection, London, in 2014.

    Layering amorphous white shapes against hazy, earthy washes, the present work coagulates into a nebulous bouquet that pulsates through the dynamism of its constituent forms. Presenting dense formations that become obscured with abrupt laminations, Wool introduced a new, freehand gesture that both embraces and represses the expressive potential of painting. Irreverently appropriating the aesthetic of generic, flower-themed wallpapers coating the walls of New York apartments in the 1980s, Wool balked against the too-figurative or too-expressive impulses trending among contemporary painters, instead placing the medium in dialogue with the history of the readymade. As remarked by Glenn O’Brien, ‘Wool engages action painting as his primary source and he then manipulates it, with the cool reflection of a Pop artist or Dada collagist, creating art that is both intense and reflective, physical and mechanical, unconscious and considered, refined in technique and redolent of street vernacular, both high and low’ (Glenn O'Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 8).

    When he began painting in the early 1980s, Wool was perceived as an outsider. As Ann Goldstein recalled ‘At the beginning of the 1980s, painting was called into question, if not declared dead. The continued act of painting was marked as retrograde’ (Ann Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, n. p.). Though many artists dispensed with canvas - what they considered an arcane support - a number of young painters remained attached to their preferred medium, motivated by a shared determination to newly invigorate painting. A chief practitioner of this movement, Wool continued to celebrate the medium’s ability to elicit multifarious modes of perception, namely through his idiosyncratic materialisation of presence and absence. ‘You take colour out, you take gesture out—and then later you can put them in. But it’s easier to define things by what they’re not than by what they are’ (Christopher Wool, quoted in ‘Artists in Conversation I’, Birth of the Cool, Zurich, 1997, p. 34).

    Placing his artistic production at the juncture between painting and print-making, Wool progressively diminished the authority of his hand from being associated to his finished products. Challenging the perceived tenets of contemporary painting, he nonetheless retained a painterly, self-referential gesture that is redolent of Jackson Pollock’s impetuous drips. ‘Mr Wool has a nostalgic soul which helps him reanimate Jackson Pollock’s drips via mad loopy sprays of black’ (Benjamin Weissman, ‘Eloquent Obstacles’, Frieze, Issue 111, November-December 2007, online). Whether employing paint, spray, enamel or printing techniques, Wool continuously investigates the limits of the painterly medium, each time adding a degree of separation between his hand and the work’s support. In doing so, he mediates on notions of authorship and hierarchy in ways that recall the stance taken by graffiti artists, insisting on the public nature of their art.

    As with his approach to earlier silkscreen works, Wool imbeds visceral drips, glitches, and absence, aping the sensuality of Abstract Expressionism whilst intentionally eschewing any kind of superior, authoritarian tone. Each mark, whether additive or subtractive, contributes to the success of the compositional whole. As Katherine Brinson describes, ‘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’, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 37). Equally, the artist’s grouping of several mediums, representation of found imagery and employment of repetitive motifs, forges strong parity with masterworks by the likes of Jasper Johns.

    Sourcing inspiration from both art history and his own corpus, Wool’s work has become, over the course of his almost four-decade career, increasingly self-referential. As expressed by art critic Jerry Saltz, ‘His all-or-nothing, caustic-cerebral, ambivalent-belligerent gambit is riveting and even a little thrilling’ (Jerry Saltz, ‘Hard Attack,’ The Village Voice, November 2004, online). Emblematic of his ground-breaking series of silkscreens, the present work's arresting appearance is only heightened by its grand scale. Confronting the painterly medium to its bare essentials, it successfully epitomises the crux of Wool’s syncretic series and richly diverse oeuvre.

Property from a Distinguished Private American Collection



signed, inscribed and dated 'WOOL 2009 P595' on the reverse; further signed, inscribed and dated 'WOOL 2009 P595' on the overlap
silkscreen ink on linen
320.4 x 243.8 cm (126 x 96 in.)
Executed in 2009.

£600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for £945,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019