Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 9, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Annie Plumb Fine Art, New York
    Private Collection, USA

  • Literature

    H. Wener Holzwarth, Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 40 (illustrated in colour)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Christopher Wool is not an art movement. But his art is always moving, transitively and to the extent that it seems to change from viewing to viewing.” GLENN O’BRIEN

    Untitled, from 1985, is a pivotal early work by Christopher Wool in which, according to Glenn O’Brien, “something is always being revealed, something is always ending and something is always beginning” (G.O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, in Christopher Wool, New York, 2008, p.15). Provocative and openly discursive, Wool’s widely acclaimed works physically articulate the intricate debate surrounding the content of modern painting (see A. Goldstein How to Paint, New York, 2008, p.183). In Wool’s endless exploration of artistic expression, he interrogates all the “possibilities and mechanisms that keep painting alive and valid in the present” (M.Paz, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., IVAM Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, 2006, p. 200).

    Untitled contains a wide range of visual associations, emerging as it does from a varied cultural legacy of material, mechanisation and mark making. Rather than simply reiterating, Wool reinvents the traditions of Abstract Expressionism and Pop art which it follows. The paint itself, like an integral thread woven throughout Wool’s practice, implies a simplicity that contradicts its inner complexity. The artist fundamentally reconsiders painting, using the medium itself as a means to express “critique from within” (Goldstein, How to Paint, p. 183). The surface of Untitled seems to delight in the process of its creation. It exists simultaneously physical and mechanised, unconscious and considered, layered and reflective. O’Brien draws a comparison between William Wordsworth, who “defined poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings… emotion recollected in tranquillity” with Wool’s practice which “is a poetic approach to action painting where the action becomes the subject of contemplation” (O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, p.10).

    The present lot is one of the first examples of Wool’s work on metal, making a landmark painting in his output so far. In addition, Untitled highlights a pivotal transition between Wool’s all over drip paintings of the early 80s to his more mechanical later style. The aluminium that Wool uses as the basis of his painting here imbues it with a monumentality which exudes power and permanence. Wool’s paintings have been described by John Caldwell in the catalogue accompanying the 1989 exhibition of Wool’s work at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as “uniform, deliberate, absolute and masterful” (in Goldstein, How to Paint, p. 184). The artist’s work as a whole is distinguished as much by its omissions as inclusions. In Untitled, this characteristic has resulted in a remarkably direct visual language, an elimination of everything that seems redundant. Variations of colour, defined composition and internal form are discarded, replaced with a persuasive and considered aesthetic. Wool suggests “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” (in Goldstein, How to Paint, p. 185).

    Untitled provokes an ephemeral, ambivalent encounter with the viewer. The work is realised by fusing minimalist reduction with the overt suggestion of its handmade manufacture. Wool directs his application of paint, in a similar way to that of Pollock’s action painting, he ‘controls’ the accident. This collective process of ‘carefully achieved randomness’ has resulted in a painting in which every irregularity reverberates. Each spot of paint has individual integrity and provides a point of focus within the general diffusion. Perpetually agitated with kinetic energy, light fluctuates on the work’s mottled surface. A paradoxical dialogue is fashioned between viewer and work. With every fresh glance, Untitled reflects not only a continuous search for meaning but avoidance of it.



enamel on metal
175 x 122 cm (68 7/8 x 48 in)
Signed and dated ‘Wool ’85’ on the reverse.

£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £361,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 October 2012