Christopher Wool - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Eleni Koronaiou Gallery, Athens
    Portalakis Collection, Athens
    Larry Gagosian Collections, New York
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, From the Private Collection of Larry Gagosian, September 2010- January 2011
    Athens, Portalakis Collection, Over the Limit: Christopher Wool & George Condo, January 2006

  • Literature

    From the Private Collection of Larry Gagosian, exh. cat., Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, 2011, p.88 (illustrated)
    Over the Limit: Christopher Wool & George Condo, exh. cat., Portalakis Collection, Athens, 2006, p. 10 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot, Untitled, was executed in 1990, a pinnacle moment in Christopher Wool's early exploration into painting and a benchmark year resulting in the production of several of Wool's most iconic paintings. The 1980’s was a time when painting was relishing a revival by the sentiment of the Neo-Expressionists. Conceived and dominant in Germany, Neo-Expressionism developed as a reaction to the supremacy of conceptual and minimal art of the 1970’s and returned to the portrayal of the recognisable, including everyday objects and the human form. Wool, reluctant to be directly associated, instead interrogated the conception and visual limitations of painting, redefining its possibilities. The continual examination into the discourse of contemporary painting was at the heart of Wool’s practice.

    Untitled, a large format alkyd and acrylic on aluminium, navigates seamlessly between the abstract and the figurative. The composition consists of two large scale avian forms; both sit against a pure white aluminium ground. On first glace each symbol looks indistinguishable but on closer inspection minor nuances in paint application and surface imperfections become increasingly visible, providing an insight into Wool’s newly developed method. The large scale of Untitled permeates rawness and life to both birds, each confined within the limitations of the aluminium sheet, they give the impression that at any opportune moment they might come to life and escape the picture plane.

    Wool draws inspiration from a series he began in 1986, influenced by a variety of archaic ornamental designs such as, flowers, wrought-iron gates, rudimental human forms and birds. Untitled, recontextualizes the bygone symbol of the eagle, the national emblem of the United States. All that embodies the American bald eagle, fierce independence, masculinity, strength, can be seen as a nod to Wool's greatest influence, the Abstract Expressionist painters of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. There is also a direct reference to Robert Rauschenberg’s, Canyon, 1959, arguably, one of the most influential artworks of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock were an obvious influence on Wool’s ‘silver paintings’ of 1984-1985. However important the process of drip painting was to Wool, it was ultimately Pollock’s allover strategy of picture making that was most influential. In 1988, two years before the execution of the present work, Wool added the rubber stamp as a means to create paintings. This enabled him to engage with more sophisticated and complex forms.

    ‘In 1988, Wool began to use another tool for image/paint application: the rubber stamp. As in the “roller paintings,” the “rubber stamp paintings” joined together painting and process, and Wool broadened his imagery beyond the “off-the-shelf” catalogue of the roller paintings: his new imagery including flowers, wrought-iron gate patterns, running figures and birds. While some of the paintings where Wool uses larger, figurative stamps suggest a shift toward the compositional, the gate imagery showed his continued involvement in all over pattern. He could construct a pattern by repeating the stamped image, in effect interlocking the individual stamped images like the links in a gate, as well as altering the integrity of the images by layering, overprinting, and varying the register.’

    (Ann Goldstein, How to Paint in Wool, Taschen, 2012, p. 173)

    Wool continued to produce decorative wallpaper patterns and symbols throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s; in 1987 he also began to use words as imagery. The source or actual context of the words Wool incorporated into his new paintings was less significant than how he actually converted words into paintings. He focused on multilayered phrases and expressions, tailored them, breaking up the composition, resulting in a certain play on words and investigating the relationship between the linguistic and the pictorial. Wool's curiosity in layering and interweaving imagery in his roller paintings naturally led to his interest in layered meaning in his word paintings by selecting words or texts that were both common and open-ended. His exploration into imagery and words ran simultaneously side by side and arguably the period from 1986 to 1990 resulted in the production of Wool's most iconic and defining works.

    In 1991, Wool turned towards silkscreened imagery, a technique he continues to use to the present day; this enabled him to discover new possibilities with scale, imagery and also led to the appropriation of imagery from earlier works. The layering and surface play of Wool’s later paintings became increasingly busy and multifaceted as he added new techniques and processes, giving his earlier works a reduced, clean aesthetic, which he is most revered for. Untitled, is a powerful example of a painting of its time and perfectly encapsulates the ongoing debate of the significance of painting taking place in the late 1980’s in America. Wool continues to be at the forefront of this dynamic debate and has profoundly influenced following generations of artists who continue to push the realm of what is possible. He has created an iconic visual language that has come to represent painting in the post-Pop era and has already embedded itself in the upper echelons of twentieth century painting.

    ‘Wool uses clip art and decorative roller in the way he used verbal clichés. He recycles base materials, signs of commercial kitsch and decorative banality, and the husks of devalued emotional triggers, transforming them through a sort of alchemical overkill into strangely beautiful compositions. ‘

    (Glenn O’Brien, Apocalypse and Wallpaper in Wool, Taschen, 2012, p. 9)



alkyd, acrylic on aluminium
243.8 x 162.5 cm (95 7/8 x 63 7/8 in.)
Signed, dated and annotated "Wool 1990 P131" on the reverse.

£1,800,000 - 2,200,000 

Sold for £2,098,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm