Included in the exhibition: Echoes of Laocoön
“Long story short: Reincarnation. What Christopher has done with silkscreen has made the medium whole again. He has taught an old dog new tricks.”
– Richard Prince
“From today painting is dead”, the French painter Paul Delaroche proclaimed after seeing the first daguerrotype, an early photographic technique. It would not be the last time that painting would be relegated to the history books – every few decades the debate about the continued impossibility of painting was reignited, and without fail after each death sentence painters would continue to paint. During the 1980s, painting was once again under fierce attack, paradoxically giving birth to some of the most engaging painterly practices. This time, artists undermined historical assumptions around the medium in order to keep it alive. Martin Kippenberger hired a commercial sign painter to paint his pictures; Albert Oehlen attempted to make ‘bad paintings’ and Richard Prince elevated the spray-painted car hood to become the ultimate American painting.
signed, dated and numbered
silkscreen ink on paper
76.4 by 55.7 cm.
Printers proof 3 of 4 aside from the edition of 40.
Brand X Editions, New York
Private Collection, United States
Another print from this edition is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Christopher Wool engaged equally unlikely sources that traditionally had no place in painting. In an early body of work he turned towards the one thing that serious art was not supposed to be – decorative – and appropriated the patterns that were used by interior decorators as a quick fix for cheap New York apartments. The decorative patterns, painted in stark black enamel paint, were also seen as a reflection on the urban landscape of the punk generation during the conservative 1980s. Just as the artist’s famous stencilled word paintings, they embody a real lo-fi or DIY quality and aesthetic.
The artist’s other key painterly strategy was arguably even more ground-breaking. Christopher Wool produced a body of work based on the kind of gestural ‘action painting’ as practised by the abstract expressionists; some of it freely painted, other parts copied from generic examples of abstract paintings as illustrated in amateur art books. He reproduced these paintings into silkscreens, which were then recycled into other paintings or remade as silkscreens – as is the case in Untitled. This mode of self-appropriation cleverly undermines the modernist myths of authorship and originality, and also reconciles two opposing positions: that of the heroic painter whose hand is visible in his works, and that of the cold and mechanical silkscreen technique.
“We are confronted with work that deals 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
Christopher Wool was sympathetic to Robert Ryman’s statement on painting from 1969, which is particularly apt to the screenprinted abstracts: “There is never a question of what to paint, but only how to paint.” And whilst Wool’s silkscreens, be it on paper or on canvas, are not technically paintings, the imagery is in direct dialogue with it. The images represent the remnants of abstract expressionism in an age of mechanical reproduction, where gestural painting is no longer seen as an indexical link between the artist and his work, but has become a mere signifier for an expressive artistic language that is devoid of real emotion. As Marga Paz concludes: “Wool has intuitively developed a reappropriation of his own works, which, by superimposing a series of layers he constructs an abstraction that looks gestural and eminently pictorial but is really a way of demolishing Abstract Expressionism’s concept of pictorial expressiveness.”
Installation view of Christopher Wool’s paintings at the Central Pavillion of the Venice Biennale, 2011
The use of digital technologies is also important vis-a-vis technological advancement in general, as Katherine Brison observes: “Recent works show Wool continuing to find new ways to subject his imagery to strata of procedural agitation, exploring the potentialities of digital technology for image making and abstraction in a world where modes of seeing are increasingly based on the radiant pixelated field of the computer screen.” This is perfectly exemplified in Untitled, where one of the artist’s earlier enamel works from the Drawings of Beer on the Wall series (2004) has been appropriated in a silkscreen. This same silkscreened image has since been used by Wool in a large number of paintings, including a suite of eight large canvasses that were created for the Venice Biennale in 2011 (see image above).
Christopher Wool was born in Chicago and is based in New York. His work is widely exhibited and collected across the United States, Europe and Asia, and with an auction record of USD 29.9 million he is one of the most expensive living artists. Amongst the many public collections in which Wool’s work is found are the Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; The Broad Museum, Los Angeles; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Selected solo exhibitions
2019 Hill Art Foundation, New York
2017 Max Hetzler, Berlin
2016 Fondation Beyeler, Basel
2015 Luhring Augustine, New York
2015 Museum of Modern Art, New York
2013 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
2013 Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
2012 Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris
2010 Gagosian Gallery, Rome
2008 Museum de Arte Contemporanea, Porto
2007 Skarstedt Gallery, New York
2006 Simon Lee Gallery, London
2004 Camden Art Center, London
2002 Le Consortium, Dijon
1999 Musee d’Art Contemporain, Geneva
1996 Galerie Gisela Captain, Cologne
1992 Eli Broad Foundation, Los Angeles
1991 Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Albertina Museum, Vienna
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario
Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Broad Foundation, Los Angeles
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Hirschhorn Museum, Washington
Kunsthalle Basel, Basel
Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Tate Modern, London
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York