Christopher Wool - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine & Hodes Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, Germany
    Christie's, New York, 13 November 1998, lot 157
    Art & Public, Geneva
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1999)
    Christie's, London, 16 October 2015, lot 54
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed at the dawn of Christopher Wool’s artistic career, when the painter began blending the physical act of creation with automated processes, Untitled, 1986, presents the viewer with an exquisite net of dark dots mesmerically deployed across a vast aluminium surface. Wool’s tableaux from this period typically straddle majestic grandeur and an urban aesthetic, coalescing the arresting countenance of standard large-scale paintings with the daring visual syntax of punk and new wave iconography. They are held in seamless tension between the handmade and the readymade, attending to the gestural subjectivity of painting, whilst exuding the sleekness of mechanic iterations. Untitled eludes not this prodigious balance. Challenging his preferred medium’s demise, which had been declared by the art critic Douglas Crimp in his influential article ‘The Death of Painting’ in 1981, Wool herein conjures its most celebrated characters from previous decades, invoking namely the repetitious aesthetic of Jackson Pollock’s all-over canvases, the frenetic dotting of Yayoi Kusama’s early Infinity Nets, and the glossy surfaces of Pop Art protagonists.

    Between 1986 and 1987, Christopher Wool introduced a new tool to his oeuvre which served not only as a novel painterly technique, but also as a subject matter in itself. Culled from a moment’s observation when Wool saw workers painting the walls outside his loft with specialised rollers, the artist’s new technique employed the same tool to emulate the aesthetic of wall designs in New York City, typically manufactured with patterned blossoms, vines, or abstract geometries. He called the result ‘an interesting friction generated by putting forms that were supposed to be decorative in such severe terms’ (Katherine Brinson, ‘Trouble Is My Business,’ Christopher Wool, New York, 2013, p. 38). Using the rolling method to its full capacity, Wool exploited its ability to reproduce the same image repeatedly, maintaining the same form despite the artist’s wavering hand. In this way, he mechanised his own production process, which, despite its efficient automacy, remained prone to gestural fallibility, enabling subtle variations from print to print.

    Departing from the rollers’ strictly decorative aspect, Wool embraced the drips, smudges and misalignments that resulted from gauche handling — accidents that Katherine Brinson referred to as the ‘visual noise emitted by methods of mechanical reproduction’ (Katherine Brinson, ‘Trouble Is My Business’, Christopher Wool, New York, 2013, p. 39). Soon after beginning to work with the rollers, he expanded his practice by using rubber stamps, often layering various forms of all-over patterns to convey pictorial chaos. Untitled is an apt representation of Wool’s early pattern iterations. The subtle dots coating its surface are idiosyncratically arranged whilst retaining an intuitive and expressionist edge, materialised in their elusive imperfections. At first glance, the composition’s dispersed design appears rigidly symmetrical, yet on further inspection, it becomes apparent that the dots expand into infinitesimally curving motifs. As these beautified dots fill the entire composition, the incomplete forms spreading along the edges give the impression that the pattern continues beyond the confines of the aluminium support.

    Created in the most formative year of Christopher Wool’s practice, Untitled presaged a number of his subsequent artistic explorations. The artist’s use of punitive materials, for instance, is particularly foreboding. The alkyd drips’ transformative effect when placed in sustained contact with aluminium portends the physical act of transgression Wool imposed on later works through the use of heavy-duty raw materials such as enamel and turpentine. In Untitled, the alkyd indeed forms a warped, transparent skin on the metallic support that disrupts the flatness of its initial application, conveying Wool’s characteristically raw and ragged energy. ‘From the beginning, Wool sought to make traditional paintings that did not look like traditional paintings’ contended Ann Goldstein. ‘He eliminated everything that seemed unnecessary, rejecting color, hierarchical composition, and internal form’ (Ann Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 185).

    Brazenly innovative and culled from a visual amalgamation of art historical references, Untitled stands as the ultimate collision of two seemingly irreconcilable artistic tendencies – Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. ‘It was at this point’, Katherine Brinson writes, ‘that a persistent critical formulation of Wool’s work as a détente between AbEx energy and the deadpan cool of Pop, figured in particular by the polarity between Pollock and Warhol, began to gain purchase’ (Katherine Brinson, ‘Trouble is my business’, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 38). A striking example of Wool’s patterned abstract paintings, Untitled is a supreme conflation of the artist’s technical supremacy and conceptual vigour.

Property from a Private Collection, United States



signed and dated 'WOOL '86' on the reverse
enamel on aluminium
182.9 x 121.9 cm (72 x 48 in.)
Executed in 1986.

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £495,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019