Untitled (P271)

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Phillips, London, 14 February 2013, lot 7
    Private Collection
    Phillips, New York, 8 November 2015, lot 13
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Untitled (P271) is a prime demonstration of Christopher Wool’s exploratory process of creation, in which he layers a series of black, decorative motifs in enamel, upon panels of aluminium primed with white paint. Using the susceptibility of slippage and over-painting, a consequence of his unique manufacturing method, as a means of building wholly unique, monochromatic compositions, the artist investigates the limits of the printing and painting process. Through the rejection of conventional, mechanical methods of creation and confrontation of the conflicts associated with contemporary image-making, Untitled (P271) represents the conceptual core of Wool’s oeuvre, provoking a dialogue amongst those who question his unconventional approach and technique.

    Untitled (P271) communicates a story whereby the process of improvisation, imperfection and distortion culminate to create an evocation of a celestial sky, inversely represented with black on white as opposed to white on black. The dripping frame, barely containing the image, is a doorway to another world, inviting the viewer to step in and discover a lesser ventured realm.

    The experimental layering of images, as well as the works’ self-evident medium and construction, draws parallels between the present work and Jackson Pollock’s Enchanted Forest, in which Pollock seeks to free line and explore the medium's ‘pure movement’ without direct representation, not dissimilar from Wool’s aim of ‘freeing’ the printing process. Likening Wool’s works to Pollock’s, John Caldwell explains, ‘Instead of his looping whorls of paint, seemingly uncontrolled, but in fact highly disciplined, one faces in Wool’s work only the arbitrary order of carefully achieved randomness. Undeniably, the work is beautiful; for many observers it resembles stars in a night sky. Yet, especially because of the inevitable recall of Pollock’s work, there is no secure sense of what Wool’s paintings mean’ (John Caldwell, quoted in Ann Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 172).

    Adopting Post-Minimal influences, Wool had the tools to delve into the broad world of abstraction, applying a pre-existing artistic practice for the purpose of generating simple designs highly sensitive to human error. Through his acceptance and endorsement of misprints, build-ups of enamel, drippage and, in the case of the present work the faint traces of the silkscreen frame, Wool divulges the works’ story of creation, allowing the piece to speak for itself. It is through this pictorial discord that Wool imbues a sense of vulnerability, exposing the fragile nature to his screen printing procedure. To expand on this, John Caldwell remarked, ‘the eye does move across the paintings’ surface repeatedly because in ordinary life, outside of painting, variation implies change or development, and the viewer actually tries to read the imperfections of the process for meaning’ (John Caldwell, quoted in Ann Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 173). Wool’s use of repetition, replication and ‘cultural piracy’, reflected in his choice of motif – in which he appropriates textile design - and creative practice throughout his career, confirms similarities between his own artistic output and that of his Picture Generation contemporaries, namely Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince. Richard Prince in particular, a good friend and peer with whom Wool has also collaborated, created a series of monochromatic silkscreens on canvas, known as his White Paintings; A Man Comes Home, a work from this series, incorporates fragments of silkscreened graphics floating across the composition, much like Wool’s Untitled (P271).

    Wool’s use of the mechanical process of screen-printing immediately associates him with Pop artists like Andy Warhol, for whom screen-printing was a natural progression from his earlier printing techniques, just as it was the case later for Wool. For example, his Elvis IV, exemplifies Warhol’s fixation on employing the repetition of popular images and figures as an artistic rhetoric. However, despite the obvious stylistic similarities demonstrated in both the visuals and the practice of the two works, there are stark differences between the two artists, as John Caldwell has acknowledged: ‘Wool is more reticent, cooler even than Warhol. 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, quoted in Ann Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 173).

    A significant work in the context of Wool’s own artistic development, Untitled (P271) illustrates Wool’s iconoclastic triumph in subverting a traditional printing method, by confronting the prescribed limits of silk screen printing. ‘I often want a painting to feel like it is the result of a certain process … a process that was not simply the painting/picturing process of putting together a formalistically successful painting.’ (Christopher Wool, quoted in Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 152).

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Untitled (P271)

signed, titled and dated 'WOOL 1997 "UNTITLED (P271)"' on the reverse
enamel on aluminum
274.3 x 182.9 cm (108 x 72 in.)
Executed in 1997.

Estimate
£2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

sold for £2,479,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018