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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Private Collection, Europe
    Inigo Philbrick, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Inigo Philbrick, Christopher Wool / Mike Kelley, Paintings on Paper, 8 February - 28 April 2016, pp. 35, 40-41, 43 (illustrated, pp. 41, 43)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Soaked with pink enamel, Untitled (D139) is as structured as it is explosive. The painting’s ambivalent composition, at once square and convulsive, is reminiscent of Neville Wakefield’s description of a Beckettian mise-en-abyme; the colourful block located at its centre and gesturing towards the canvas’s right border indeed feels like ‘a painting within a painting’ from which the untouched white contours are as though shunned, essentially redundant. As part of Christopher Wool’s 9th Street Run Down series comprised of forty-four works on paper, Untitled (D139) is a coherent addition to the artist’s already rich body of work, vested with formal reduction, textual absurdity and self-contained deprecation.

    Best known for his painterly take on downtown New York’s 1970s urban scene – the city’s ‘countercultural bastion’ – Christopher Wool started transferring words, scribbles and colour from walls onto canvases in the early 1980s, after completing art studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the Studio School in New York (Katherine Brimson, ‘Trouble is My Business’, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Guggenheim, 2013, p. 36). Developed over the course of three decades, Wool’s work has consistently been exploring the vivaciousness and lifelike quality of paint, retaining an attachment to its traditional medium while simultaneously bending the latter’s representational conventions. Eluding the return of figuration and circumventing the advent of multimedia, Wool delved ever-more into the visual language of graffiti, benefitting from the fluid automatism of silkscreen production which resulted in neatly contracted painterly surfaces. On Wool's particularly idiosyncratic style, Neville Wakefield further mused: ‘Dispense with hierarchy, dispense with composition and colour, dispense with pictorial order, they seem to say. Yet, paradoxically, from this confrontation with painting’s supposed civility, Wool makes an elegant and formidable case for it being alive and well’ (Neville Wakefield, ‘Christopher Wool: Paintings Marked by Confrontation and Restraint’, Elle Décor, March 1999, p. 59).

    Untitled (D139) merges such dialectical notions, pairing visible impulse with smooth strokes, spontaneity with formal skill, rawness with civility. The painting’s minimal appearance is emblematic of Wool’s progression from the textual to the visual; it represents further reduction into abstraction. The use of exuberant colour is a rare iteration; writer Katherine Brinson specifies that ‘bright hues would only occasionally punctuate the artist’s typically puritan palette’ (Katherine Brinson, ‘Trouble is My Business’, Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Guggenheim, 2013, p. 44). As such, Untitled (D139) is at once paradigmatic and atypical: a singularly joyous expression of Wool’s ‘simple and irrefutable logic’ (Neville Wakefield, ‘Christopher Wool: Paintings Marked by Confrontation and Restraint’, Elle Décor, March 1999, pp. 58-60).

    The radiant washes in Untitled (D139) appear to fuse with the sheet, denying any three-dimensional illusionism and evoking the tireless, gestural experimentations of Helen Frankenthaler. Employing her soak-stain technique, where she poured thinned oil paint directly onto the sheet, in the present work Wool’s investigations into the gestural qualities of pigment and the haloing of layered paint, conjure the tonal compositions of his Abstract Expressionist forbearer.

    The artist’s early word paintings, composed of large black stenciled letters on white aluminium sheets, focused already on the concept of reduction, as their constitutive terms were deprived of vowels, or their traditional spelling was altogether supplanted by street slang. Though Untitled (D139) is wordless, it exudes boundless energy. Experimenting with the limits of the printing and painting process, throughout his oeuvre, the artist explores mechanical modes of creation. Alternating between painting, stenciling, stamping and printing, exploring myriad painterly techniques, the artist’s investigation of media and concern with repetition evokes Andy Warhol’s screen-printing process. Manipulating the strokes of paint, akin to Warhol’s Rorschach, 1984, wherein the printed inks are smeared across the composition, the present work is a celebration of the qualities of media.

    Untitled (D139) was created at a time of widespread celebration for the artist. Three years prior to the execution of the work, an array of Wool retrospectives indeed proliferated across continents in institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the Kunsthalle Basel in Switzerland. With the presence of brash words and solid blocks of paint, Wool’s work is as innovative as it is charismatic. As such, it continues to be acclaimed today, and has undeniably cemented its place in the canon of contemporary art

Ο ◆6

Untitled (D139)

blind stamped with the artist's name 'WOOL' lower right; further signed, titled and dated '"D139" WOOL 2001' on the reverse
enamel on rice paper
167.6 x 121.9 cm (65 7/8 x 47 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2001.

£500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for £585,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018