Christopher Wool (American, born 1955) Untitled 1991

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Lot 5
Christopher Wool
(American, born 1955)

Sold for £ 1,025,000 (US$ 1,256,105) inc. premium
Christopher Wool (American, born 1955)

enamel on paper

132.1 by 101.6 cm.
52 by 40 in.

This work was executed in 1991.


  • Provenance
    Luhring Augustine, New York (no. C3723 D42)
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Untitled of 1991, represents the high watermark of Christopher Wool's earliest and most daring period of his career. The intensity of the contrast between black and white and the complexity of the composition single this work out as one of the finest examples from his enamel series. At first glance, this work may seem like a representational image of vines and leaves, a portrayal of a classic subject seen many times before in either landscape or still life. Closer inspection reveals that the work includes numerous repetitions, the same vines, the same leaves, over and over again, patterns with no clear beginning or end. The texture of the enamel on the paper reveal the use of rubber rollers, and the diversity of the paint surface, its blurred edges, its lacunae and its blots, demonstrate the delightful unpredictability of this manual process. Like Andy Warhol and even the Abstract Expressionists before him, Wool has always removed himself from the physical process of painting and making; leaving no evidence of his presence through brushstrokes or painterly flourishes. What at first seemed to be an image, a representation of the real world that could be searched for meaning, symbolism or narrative, can now be read as pure abstraction. Our perceptions, and our expectations, change.

    Born in Boston and raised in Chicago, Christopher Wool arrived in New York in 1973, later studying for a time at the New York Studio School, also working as a studio assistant for sculptor Joel Shapiro. Mixing in creative circles in the post-punk milieu of early 1980s New York City, Wool soon began to develop a questioning, even deeply cynical approach to current artistic practices. Looking for inspiration, he turned not only to the museum collections, but also to the art of the street. He rejected conventional ideas on colour, composition, material and technique: "At that time...for some reason it seemed important to me to not have to make composition. In the same way that colour was not something that was interesting to me or getting rid of it seemed to help" (the artist in: Martin Prinzhorn, 'Conversation with Christopher Wool',, 1997). By the late 1980s his black and white stencilled and rollered images were drawing attention from critics and collectors alike, and Wool's instantly recognisable, genuinely individualistic aesthetic began to reach a mass audience.

    Many modern artists have struggled with the idea of their art as decoration. Mark Rothko, for example, hated the notion that his work was admired for its decorative qualities. Typically arch, Andy Warhol joked that collectors did not seem to mind a difficult subject matter as long as the colours in the canvas matched their curtains. Wool however faces this decorative dilemma head on. Unlike Rothko who intentionally rendered his paintings darker, heavier, less decorative, in the present work, Wool has intentionally appropriated an image directly from interior decoration, in this case the pattern of wallpaper. In twisting and turning it, stripping it of all colour, he renders it utterly abstract, devoid of the decorative qualities which were once its sole purpose. It is in starkly powerful images such as this which have established Wool as one of the most intellectually daring and visually exciting artists of recent times. His work is now held in major institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Kunsthalle, Basel and the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. He has recently been the subject of a solo exhibition at MoMA, New York and was the subject of a career-long survey at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. Wool may have consistently questioned the very purpose of painting throughout his career, but Untitled nevertheless displays his clear belief in its viability as an art form. In challenging the status quo, Christopher Wool has successfully created an art for the current times whose influence will be felt for years to come.

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Christopher Wool (American, born 1955) Untitled 1991
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