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Untitled
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Untitled

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About the item

Soaring to nearly eight feet in height, Christopher Wool’s stunningly impactful Untitled is an unequivocal affirmation of the artist’s primacy within the landscape of Contemporary Art, epitomizing his groundbreaking inquiry into the destruction of the precepts of painting. Wool’s autographic black stamped patterns dance across the stark white surface of the present work, creating a swirling cacophony of layered forms that project an aura at once fully resolved and utterly dynamic. Moments of absolute calm, in the form of diaphanous white passages that interrupt the graphic bacchanalia of the stamped images, lend the painting an overwhelming sense of enigmatic calm that belies the proliferation of pictorial data that populates its surface. Wool’s black and white paintings are evocatively multifaceted yet reductive of tradition: heavily influenced by the ‘allover’ compositional strategy of Jackson Pollock; the minimal palette, line, and gesture of Brice Marden; and mediated by Andy Warhol’s integration of mechanical methods. As explicated by Ann Goldstein, “From the beginning, Wool sought to make traditional paintings that did not look like traditional paintings …he eliminated everything that seemed unnecessary, rejecting color, hierarchical composition, and internal form.” (Ann Goldstein, “How to Paint” in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 185) The unity of painting and process is thus made manifest in the present work, in which the remit of expression resides in the layering, register, overprinting, and variance of the pigment application. This exceptional work affords highly revealing insight into the processes of construction and destruction of pictorial lexica, as well as the scrutiny and reconsideration of conventions of painting, that have formed the fundamental kernel of Wool’s conceptual and aesthetic enterprise. In the 1980s, in the midst of an artistic landscape predominated by neo-expressionist painting, Wool, alongside a small enclave of artists including Martin Kippenberger, Sigmar Polke, and Albert Oehlen, scrutinized the role of painting from within the medium itself by creating bodies of work that were inherently self-reflexive and deeply aware of art historical convention. These artists explored new possibilities by embracing failure and parodying archetypes of painterly expression. Wool’s paintings are condensed to the limited palette of black and white enamel applied to a ground, the flatness of the surface, and the erasure of verisimilitude and privilege of semiotic distillation, rendering a myriad of art historical precedent with sensational economy. Untitled is defined by the schema of painterly omissions or ‘glitches’ that disrupt the decorative pattern that it presents. The effect is one in which Wool invokes the associative potential of decorative imagery for his scrutiny of contemporary painting; as presciently observed by Gary Indiana for the Village Voice in 1987, “Their decorative qualities are deceptions. The eye doesn’t linger in one place or rove over them registering choice bits, but locks into contact with the surface and freezes …They exercise an almost hideous power, like real mirrors of existence.” (Gary Indiana, The Village Voice, March 1987, cited in Ibid., p. 48)\nUntitled continues to maintain a forcefully discursive relationship with art history, a precedent established with Wool’s earliest abstract works. The sweeping, swirling rhythm of the present work’s dominant pattern is powerfully evocative of the Abstract Expressionist paradigm of Jackson Pollock, while Wool’s insistence on a palette restricted to black and white recalls the chromatic polarity of the best of Franz Kline’s paintings. Meanwhile Wool’s approach to media, recapitulation of found imagery, and pictorial repetition forges a strong parity with Pop masterworks by artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Nonetheless, taking on a level of disconnection even further removed from the dispassionate repetition of morbid scenes in the Death and Disaster series, Wool is cooler, more reticent even, than Warhol. John Caldwell explained, “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 cited in Ann Goldstein, Op Cit., p. 185) As impeccably demonstrated by the present work, Wool addressed these concerns via a heavily reductive erasure of both abstraction and figuration from which he may then return and intervene: “You take color 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.” (the artist cited in Ibid.) Thus Untitled melds an ironic, appropriationist detachment with the language and strategies of abstraction in an effort to comment on the very nature of the genre.\nThrough cumulative acts of reductionism and recapitulation, Wool has stripped down the essential facets of painting to engender a union of process with picture making. In a progression started with the roller and rubber-stamp paintings, through to the stenciled text pictures and the most recent corpus of silkscreened gestural abstractions, Wool has explored a mutating, visually arresting landscape of seemingly mechanical, cipher-like reductions; coolly detached and emptied of heroic angst. Epitomizing Wool’s visual restraint, Untitled embodies Marga Paz’s deft summary that “We are confronted with works that deal with the possibilities and mechanisms that keep painting alive and valid in the present, an issue that, despite all forecasts, is one of the most productive and complex issues in contemporary visual art.” (Marga Paz in Exh. Cat., Valencià, IVAM Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Christopher Wool, 2006, p. 200)\nSigned, dated 1996 and numbered (P251) on the reverse
US
NY, US
US

medium

Enamel on aluminum

creator

Christopher Wool

condition

This work is in excellent condition. There is evidence of very light wear and handling along the edges, consistent with the artist's working method and likely from the studio. There is an extremely minor chip to the top layer of pigment, located in the black petal at the extreme right edge, 53 ¾" up from the bottom. Under ultraviolet light there are no apparent restorations. There is a minute accretion at the top left corner that fluoresces brightly. The work is unframed. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

90 x 60 in. 228.6 x 152.4 cm.

literature

Arlène Bonnant, et. al., CAP Collection, Switzerland, 2005, p. 321, illustrated in color Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 210, illustrated

provenance

Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York The CAP Collection (acquired from the above) Sotheby's, New York, Passion + Transmission, International Contemporary Art from the CAP Collection, March 7, 2013, Lot 9 Acquired by the present owner from the above

signedDate

Signed, dated 1996 and numbered (P251) on the reverse

creator_nationality_dates

B. 1955


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

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