Contemporary Art

Christopher Wool

United States 1955

Neo-pop

Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool
Male
United States
1955
October 14, 2014
Music, Gestalt, .

On the legacy of linguistic experiments of conceptual artists, the work of Christopher Wool was developed but with a certain critical distance and pop sensibility typical for the 80’s, the period when the artist started. Namely, by focusing on text and appropriating neo-expressionist tendencies of the times, he set off on a peculiar task not only to question the very nature of an abstract artwork in the contemporary moment, yet to explore the wide array of problematic places in the broader context of the art world. That journey led him to establish highly conceptual artistic practice expressed through painting, sculpture, and photography.

The artist showed his works in prestigious American institutions like Guggenheim and chicago contemporary museum
Christopher Wool – Untitled, 1989 – image via maxhetzler

The Artistic Development

Christopher Wool was born in 1955 in Boston. His parents were highly educated, father a molecular biologist and a mother psychiatrist. The artist grew up in Chicago, but in 1973, he moved to New York City and enrolled in Studio School studies with Jack Tworkov and Harry Krame. Shortly after formal training as a painter at the New York Studio School, he dropped out and immersed himself in the world of underground film and music. Between 1980 and 1984, he worked as part-time studio assistant to Joel Shapiro. Throughout the NY circle of artists of all sorts, he gradually started exhibiting the works and as the times passed by his career rapidly started growing.

Black, stenciled letters on white canvases are the artists trademark

He was in contact with urban subcultures and the specific use of letters made him famous
Christopher Wool – Untitled, 1990 – image via thebroad

The Selection of Media

The artist usually expresses his ideas through several mediums such as paper, photography, and painting. As a matter of fact, Christopher Wool began developing his style during the mid-1970’s, when he started creating abstract paintings that included multiple mark makings. The influences can be definitely found in conceptual art, Minimalism, and even Pop art, so such a fusion of different referential points provided him with the solid base for constructing his personal aesthetic. Wool’s work simultaneously draws from the recent history of art and points to entirely new possibilities for the future of painting. At the heart of his creative project, which now spans more than three decades, is the question of how a picture can be conceived, realized, and experienced today.

Christopher Wool used various surfaces in order to examine formations of letters

The prints of catalogue from both museum and gallery were presented during the press conference
Christopher Wool – Black Book – image via christies (Left) Christopher Wool – Supreme Skate Deck, 2008 – image via 1stdibs (Right)

The Use of Techniques

Since Christopher Wool was occupied with experimentation in painting in those years, it was quite difficult for him to rise above in New York because the very media was not seen anymore as relevant. Despite the situation, the artist was persistent and used modern tools to perfect his works like spray, screens, stencils, rags, solvents, air guns, etc. Wool saw differently the possibilities of gestural mark-making on a surface and even used photographs of his own paintings as sources for new paintings. Also, he used particular surfaces like aluminum or linen grounds anew through silkscreen, either alone on a surface or in combination with enamel. Therefore, it can be said that Wool created paintings that are highly reminiscent of wallpaper, whether they include large monochrome letters that are at sometimes difficult to discern, or not.

The words are often broken up by a grid system

In privacy of his studio wool created some of his best black and white text works
Christopher Wool – Artwork – image via pinterest

The Fascination With Text

According to the story told by the artist himself, Wool began to create word paintings in the late 1980s after having seen graffiti on a brand new white truck. Nevertheless, the works are not the just mere depiction of certain phrases; the words are often broken up by a grid system or with the vowels removed. Apparently, it is not only the change of the meaning of the word that intrigues Wool, but it’s visual aspect as well. The paintings that followed are perhaps Wool’s most recognizable images, employing large passages of text from cultural idioms or song lyrics from popular culture. Wool provides tension between painting and erasing, gesture and removal, depth and flatness.

Wool is known as well for a large body of black-and-white photographs

In privacy of Guggenheim the artist draw inspiration from the collections conceptual and minimalist works
Christopher Wool – East Broadway Breakdown, Special Limited Edition, 1989 – 1993 – image via vincentborrelli

The Photographic Work of Christopher Wool

Besides his signature text paintings, Wool has amassed a large body of black-and-white photographs taken at night in the streets of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. They are somehow reminiscent of film noir aesthetic and the first series were shot in the mid-1990s, but the project was resumed and completed in 2002. Taken at night using a 35mm camera, the pictures feature the neighborhood’s signature streets, with their dilapidated storefronts and ramshackle staircases leading up to anonymous spaces. Like his paintings, Wool’s photographs hover between abstraction and representation. One hundred and sixty photographs were gathered in a book called East Broadway Breakdown which was issued by Holzwarth Publications in 2004.

Unlike text works, in Venice Wool showed paintings dominated with bulbous central blotch

The guggenheim museum and modern gallery issued outstanding and thorough catalogue of Wool’s selected works
Christopher Wool – ILLUMInations at Venice Biennale, 2011 – image via contemporaryartdaily

The 90’s and 00’s

The same problems occupy Wool in the following decades when he adopted the silkscreen as a primary tool. The dense configurations of various motifs span across his paintings, sometimes interrupted by large passages of smudges of spray-paint that evoke an act of vandalism on a city street. Since his whole practice is related to the urban experience, so the scenes of alienation and decay collected in his photographic series make this connection explicit, their fugitive compositions resonating with the vocabulary of his paintings.

The artist’s occasional plunge to sculpture can be exciting as his paintings

Christopher Wool - Untitled, 2015 - image via xpatnation
Christopher Wool – Untitled, 2015 – image via xpatnation

The Significance of Artistic Practice of Christopher Wool

The list of honors he received is huge, but to name the few, Wool has been named a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome (1989), served as a DAAD Berlin Artist-in-Residence (1992), and received the Wolfgang Hahn Prize. In 2010, he was honored with amfAR’s Award of Excellence for Artistic Contributions to the Fight Against AIDS. Over the past decade, his work has experienced substantial growth and recognition. Starting out as a Neo-Pop painter, Christopher Wool explored painting’s elusive and allusive qualities with a variety of methods including using commercial rollers to apply decorative patterns on white panels. Even today the works of Christopher Wool are equally engaging, and quite strikingly questions still relevant questions of meaning and value of an artwork in accordance with contemporaneity.

Christopher Wool lives and works in New York City and Marfa, TX.

Featured image: Portrait of Christopher Wool – image courtesy of Pinterest
All images are used for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Christopher WoolLuhring Augustine, New York Solo
2014Taking a Line for a WalkZentrum Paul Klee, BernGroup
2013Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950,Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.Group
2013Christopher WoolSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and Art Institute of ChicagoSolo
2012UnknownMusee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (catalogue)
Solo
2012Print/Out: 20 Years in Print,he Museum of Modern Art, New York (catalogue)Group
2011UnknownGalerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
Solo
2011"The 54th International Art Exhibition: ILLUMInations," Venice Biennale, Venice (catalogue)
Group
2010"Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection,"New Museum, New YorkGroup
2010UnknownGagosian Gallery, Rome (catalogue)
Solo
2009"Christopher Wool: Editions," Artelier Contemporary, Graz (catalogue)Solo
2009Warhol Wool Newman Painting Real ,Kunsthaus Graz, Graz (catalogue)Group
2008"Porto-Köln," Museum de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves, Porto, traveled to Museum Ludwig, Köln; (catalogue)Solo
2008Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting with Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, Mary Heilmann, Amy Sillman, Charline von Heyl, and Christopher Wool," Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (catalogue)Group
2007"Pattern Paintings, 1987-2000," Skarstedt Gallery, New York (catalogue)Solo
2007"Lines, Grids, Stains, Words,"The Museum of Modern Art, New York; traveled to Museum de Arte Contemporanea de Serralves, Porto; Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden (catalogue)Group
2006UnknownInstituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, Valencia; traveled to Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg (catalogue)
Solo
2006La Collezione François Pinault: Una Selezione Post-PopPalazzo Grassi, Venezia
"The 80s: A Topology," Museu Serralves, Porto
Group
2005UnknownGio Marconi, Milan
Solo
2005Contemporary Voices: Works from the UBS Art CollectionMuseum of Modern Art, New York (catalogue)Group
2004William Gedney - Christopher Wool: Into the Night P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New YorkSolo
2004UnknownCamden Arts Centre, London (catalogue)
Group
2003UnknownGalerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
Solo
2003"It Happened Tomorrow,"Biennale d'Art Contemporain De Lyon 2003, Lyon (catalogue)Group
2002Crosstown Crosstown,Le consortium, Dijon; traveled to Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Scotland (catalogue)Solo
2002"A New York Renaissance: Masterworks from the Collection of the Whitney Museum of American ArtPalazzo Reale, Milan (catalogue)Group
2001"9th Street Run Down,"11 Duke Street, London; traveled to Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, AntwerpSolo
2000"Black Book Drawings 1989,"Skarstedt Fine Art, New YorkSolo
2000Mixing Memory and Desire, New Museum of Art Lucerne, Lucerne (catalogue)Group
1999UnknownCentre d'Art Contemporain Geneve, Geneva
Solo
1999"The American Century: Art and Culture 1950-2000,Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (catalogue)Group
1998UnknownMuseum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; traveled to Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Kunsthalle Basel, Basel (catalogue)
Solo
19971997"Birth of the Cool: American Painting From Georgia O'Keeffe to Christopher Wool," Kunsthaus Zurich (catalogue)Group
1997UnknownPortofolio Kunst AG, Vienna
Solo
1996UnknownGalerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
Solo
1995UnknownLuhring Augustine, New York
Solo
1994UnknownBruno Brunnet Fine Arts, Berlin
Solo
1994Herbert Brandl, Albert Oehlen, Christopher WoolNational Gallery, Prague (catalogue)Group
1992UnknownEli Broad Family Foundation, Los Angeles
Solo
1992"Allegories of Modernism: Contemporary Drawing,he Museum of Modern Art, New York (catalogue)Group
1991MetropolisMartin-Gropius-Bau, BerlinGroup
1991UnknownMuseum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam; traveled to Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland and Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (catalogue)
Solo
1990Works on PaperLuhring Augustine, New YorkSolo
1989New Work : Christopher WoolSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art (catalogue)Solo
1989Horn of PlentyStedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (catalogue)Group
1988UnknownGalerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
Solo
1988"Robert Gober and Christopher Wool: A Project,303 Gallery, New York (artists' book)Group
1987UnknownLuhring, Augustine and Hodes Gallery, New York
Solo
1986UnknownCable Gallery, New York
Solo
1984UnknownCable Gallery, New York
Solo