Christopher Wool

Selected Works

The Bigger the Lie the Longer the Nose

1983
oil on canvas
228.6 x 176.6 cm.; 90 x 69 1/2 in.
Photo: Johansen Krause

“For the first half of the 1980s, he [Christopher Wool] tested a range of formal strategies, gaining at the same time a better understanding of the vicissitudes of the studio in his role as assistant to sculptor Joel Shapiro. His first solo show, at Cable Gallery in 1984, presented seven canvases and two works on paper [including The Bigger the Lie the Longer the Nose] depicting raw, densely painted forms that at times warily broached figuration. Over the next few years, Wool suppressed overt imagery completely and moved towards an all-over uniformity rendered in a palette of blacks and silvery greys.”

K. Brinson, ‘Trouble is my business’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2013, pp. 37-38

Type A

1986
enamel on metal
182.9 x 121.9 cm.; 72 x 48 in.

“In the ‘silver’ painting of 1984-85 and the ‘drip’ paintings of 1985-86, Wool was trying to make traditional paintings that did not look like traditional paintings - in effect trying to push what might be seen as a painting in order to create a confusion between the act and the image: ‘Is it a painting or a process?’ With these and his subsequent allover works, he sought to define his work by the elimination of everything that seemed unnecessary, thus rejecting colour, hierarchical composition, and internal form. Wool’s work is as much defined by its exclusions as its inclusions, as he has stated: ‘You take colour 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.”

A. Goldstein, ‘What they’re not: The paintings of Christopher Wool’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Zurich: Scalo Verlag, 1998, p. 258

Untitled

1987
enamel on paper
32.1 x 22.9 cm.; 12 5/8 x 9 in.
Photo: Farzad Owrang

“In tandem with his pattern paintings, Wool developed a body of work that trod the same conceptual territory with a more strident visual presence. Echoing the paradigm established with the pattern works, his ‘word paintings’ took a system of preexisting forms as a structural given, then set about exploiting the aesthetic subtleties available within these parameters. Wool had already spent the better part of a decade archiving turns of phrase that arrested his attention when he encountered a visual eureka […] a fresh-off-the-lot white delivery truck that had been branded with SEX LUV in crisp, crudely rendered spray paint. Gripped by the graphic power of this ad hoc composition, Wool set about creating an artwork that would channel the impact of the experience. An early, untitled effort from 1987 shows the words SEX and LUV rendered with blocky stencils, floating in the upper-right quadrant of the white-painted paper. Searching for a more reductive formal armature, he created a further work in which he penciled in a faintly visible grid and repeated the paired words to fill the vertically oriented surface.”

K. Brinson, ‘Trouble is my business’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2013, p. 39

Untitled

1988
enamel and Flashe on aluminium
243.8 x 182.9 cm.; 96 x 72 in.

“Wool made a defining advance in his work between 1986 and ’87 based on an alternative set of influences, merging a Post-Minimalist emphasis on process with the strategies of replication and cultural piracy that girded the work of peers such as Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, and Sherrie Levine. In the first of a number of such developments over the course of the years, the seeds of his breakthrough came from the urban vernacular. It was a common trick of New York landlords to use a roller incised with patterns to paint the hallways of tenement buildings, in a nod to decor that was more economical than wallpaper. […] In these prosaic tools, Wool identified a preexisting formal repertoire that teetered between the conditions of figuration and abstraction. Executed in gleaming black enamel on aluminium panels that had been primed with uninflected white paint, Wool’s pattern paintings evoke a peculiar disjunction between the prettifying intention of the rollers and the ascetic formal language in which he deployed them, described by the artist as ‘an interesting friction generated by putting forms that were supposed to be decorative in such severe terms’.”

K. Brinson, ‘Trouble is my business’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2013, p. 38

Untitled

1988
enamel and Flashe on aluminium
182.9 x 121.9 cm.; 72 x 48 in.

“In 1988, Wool began to use another tool for image/paint application: the rubber stamp. As in the ‘roller paintings’, the ‘rubber stamp paintings’ joined together painting and process, and Wool broadened his imagery beyond the ‘off-the-shelf’ catalog of the roller paintings: his new imagery included flowers, wrought-iron gate patterns, running figures, and birds. While some of the paintings where Wool uses larger, figurative stamps suggest a shift toward the compositional, the gate imagery showed his continued involvement in allover pattern. He could construct a pattern by repeating the stamped image, in effect interlocking the individual stamped images like the links in a gate, as well as altering the integrity of the images by layering, overprinting, and varying the register. Working with these rubber-stamp images, chosen for the ability to convey a wide range of associations as compositions, Wool considered the associative possibility of decorative imagery.”

A. Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, in Christopher Wool, Cologne: Taschen, 2012, p. 173

Apocalypse Now

1988
enamel and Flashe on aluminium
213.4 x 182.9 cm.; 84 x 72 in.

“In Apocalypse Now, language and the letters of the alphabet replace the rolled-on patterns and drips of Wool’s previous work. […] the viewer initially sees not the words but just letters […] which at first glance form an undifferentiated field, similar to Wool’s other paintings. But an important change has taken place. Whereas previously the ‘reading’ had been perceptual, it is now cognitive, linguistic rather than stylistic. […] When the viewer goes on to ‘read’ Apocalypse Now, the words run together and appear at first to be some kind of bizarre gibberish - something you can hear but can’t quite make out. This breakdown of sense is disturbing, and the painting begins to function as concrete poetry. Spoken from the void as if from some machine, the meaning is scrambled in a riddle of obscure sequence. Then decoding begins in earnest. The letters can be read not only left to right but up and down and even diagonally. Words like ellthec, thekids, ar, and sell the, confusing at first, fall into place and the message materialises before the viewer’s eyes […]”

J. Salz, ‘Notes on a painting: This is the End, Christopher Wool’s Apocalypse Now’, in Arts Magazine, September 1988, p. 20

Christopher Wool and Richard Prince
My Act

1988
enamel and Flashe on aluminium and steel
203.2 x 152.4 cm.; 80 x 60 in.
Photo: def image

“We [Christopher Wool and Richard Prince] did do a collaboration, which was a great experience. Because when he first started working with the jokes, it was around the same time, when I first started working with making the text paintings. That was actually before he'd even made the jokes into paintings. He had just done the written, he would write me on paper. And, he proposed this collaboration. I know I'm really impressed with someone's work, when I have that feeling, "Oh I wish I had done that." And with the jokes that was really the case, I thought that was quite an exciting thing to be working on. So he gave me his repertoire and I made a couple of paintings, and that was our collaboration […] they were all about change of identity, so it was kind of great […] I felt like I was Richard Prince for a day.”

Christopher Wool, ‘Conversation with Christopher Wool’, in museum in progress, 1997

Installation view: Christopher Wool, Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne, 1989

“Where there is language there is always implied or explicit narrative. Wool’s litany of nine-letter nouns describing social types compressed to a single characteristic (PAR/ANO/IAC, INS/OMN/IAC) may be seen as a series of self-portraits, or they may refer to the paintings themselves (to their role in society as SPO/KES/MAN or PRA/NKS/TER); or perhaps they mirror their viewer’s state of mind. Whatever the case may be, they are loud attempts at definition, even as the self in question is irretrievable for being subsumed under clichés. Ultimately the resolution of their disputed identities rests squarely with the spectator, for words, like artworks, are not autonomous, but subject to and shot through with the memories, associations, and preconceptions brought to bear by each viewer. As such, the audience is incorporated as an active collaborator in the full-fledged execution of the work, a role vividly underlined by Wool’s 1997 painting that reads YOU/MAKE/ME.”

M. Grynsztejn, ‘Unfinished Business’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Zurich: Scalo Verlag, 1998, p. 268

From: Absent Without Leave, 1993
Untitled

1993
black and white photograph
21.6 x 27.9 cm.; 8 1/2 x 11 in.

“As a result of this stay (Berlin, residency program of the DAAD) and at the end of a long period of travel, Wool published Absent Without Leave, an artist’s book that assembled two hundred black-and-white photographs taken during the year of residency, which had turned into a year of travel throughout Turkey, Eastern and Western Europe. The photocopied snapshots follow page after page, shortly, indistinct, blurry; they merge city and countryside, east and west, day and night, past and present in a single haze of desolation. […] they signify […] that only painting as experience and individual practice allows one to give meaning to the chaos of the world and to forge a point of view from which to examine events […] A book such as Absent Without Leave reveals how the artist came to create a unique synthesis between historically pertinent painting and a contemporary experience of the world.”

A. Pontégnie, ‘Ghost Dog’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Dijon/Dundee: Le Consortium and Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2003, p. 12

Untitled

1993
enamel on aluminium
233.7 x 178.4 cm.; 92 x 70 1/4 in.
Collection: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

“The early 1990s saw Wool turn towards silkscreened imagery, a technique he continues to use to the present, opening up new possibilities of scale and process for him. Paintings from 1991 featured large blowups of flower images taken from the earlier wallpaper rollers, while subsequent paintings appropriated moves from clip art and textile designs. Wool layered black images in dense compositions with varying degrees of overprinting, slipping, and clogged screens, all associated with mistakes in the silkscreen process. The banality that one associated with Warhol’s silkscreened flowers is overwhelmed by the grittiness of Wool’s intense and seemingly out-of-control arrangements.”

A. Goldstein, ‘How to Paint’, in Christopher Wool, Cologne: Taschen, 2012, p. 174

Felix Gonzalez-Torres in conjunction with Christopher Wool
"Untitled"

1993
print on paper, endless copies
8 in. at ideal height x 37 x 55 1/2 in. (original paper size);
20.3 cm. at ideal height x 94 cm. x 141 cm.
© Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Photo: def image
Courtesy of The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation
Installation view: True Stories. A Show Related To An Era - The Eighties: Part II, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 2018

“The motif comes form a 1990 word painting by Wool: ‘The show is over. The audience get up to leave their seats. Time to collect their coats and go home. They turn round. No more coats and no more home.’ The quotation goes back to the Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov and was called the best-possible definition of nihilism by the Situationist Raoul Veneigem. The posters can be taken by visitors of the exhibition, in line with other works by Gonzalez-Torres, most famously his candy spills, which he began creating in 1990.”

P. Pakesch with L. Eitel, ‘Notes on the Artists and the Works’, in True Stories. A Show Related to an Era: The Eighties, exh. cat., Berlin: Galerie Max Hetzler and Holzwarth Publications, 2019, p. 231

From: East Broadway Breakdown, 1994-2003
Untitled

1994
black and white Inkjet print
21.6 x 27.9 cm.; 8 1/2 x 11 in.

“Wool took the pictures in East Broadway Breakdown in 1994-1995 with the idea of eventually making a book, but the book wasn’t compiled and published until 2003. The 160 pictures are nearly all exteriors and are all taken late at night. […] The largest number of them were shot in the slum, in the derelict, industrial Bowery/Chinatown area of New York […] The photographs […] are like obscure corners of the world exposed by lightening, with that revelatory flash into a hidden reality, previously invisible not only for being hidden from the light, but by being assumed unworthy of attention, passively ignored. They’re like the ghost world only accessible to the pure heart, to the accidental, in worldly time-and-space’s interstices. It’s not just the redemption of an ‘ugliness’ and its annexation by beauty, but a faith in the value of a certain physio-psychological means of apprehending the world exercised, and shown worthy and effective. And that opens up into Wool’s paintings, where apparent casualness, sloppiness, paucity of means, seemingly haphazard framing, and smeared and out-of-register areas also appear. […] A joy of the pictures in East Broadway Breakdown is the way they enhance one’s experience of Wool’s paintings. The paintings seem to say through the photographs, ‘See, I didn’t just make this stuff up. It’s there in the world’. To an extent the photographs are like the paintings spoken in another language […] Like the paintings, one realises the (street) photos are black-and-white, often feature patterns, exclude people, welcome smears and casual framing, and direct our attention to commonplace corners and underpinnings of our environment that tend to be not merely disregarded but to be assumed ugly.”

R. Hell, ‘Christopher Wool’s Photographs’, in Christopher Wool, Cologne: Taschen, 2012, pp. 225-226

Untitled

1995
enamel on aluminium
213.4 x 152.4 cm.; 84 x 60 in.
Photo: Lamay Photo

“In 1995, working on large sheets of paper and later on aluminium panels, Wool made works using a spray gun to apply black paint like a drawing. The initial works are simply a single sprayed tangled line on the surface, with the highly liquified paint dripping down from the initial sprayed mark. Later the spray is used in conjunction with the the silkscreen and painting-out techniques.”

A. Goldstein, ‘What they’re not: The paintings of Christopher Wool’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Zurich: Scalo Verlag, 1998, p. 262

Untitled

1995
enamel on aluminium
213.4 x 152.4 cm.; 84 x 60 in.
Photo: Lamay Photo

“Starting in 1995, the structured compositions of the paintings, already destabilised by the accumulation of layers, gradually gave way to an increasingly dense and complex entanglement. Motifs of various origins, painted or silk-screened were copied, repeated, and superimposed. […] Sometimes, wide bands applied with a roller blocked the composition as though to hide uncontrolled bursts of spontaneity. […] The same shape, painted directly on the canvas in one work, could be found identical in form but reproduced in silk-screen in another, presented in smaller format or hidden under the strokes of the roller, repeated or enlarged, orange, pink, black, or red.”  

A. Pontégnie, ‘Ghost Dog’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Dijon/Dundee: Le Consortium and Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2003, p. 13

Untitled

1998
silkscreen on linen
274.3 x 182.9 cm.; 108 x 72 in.
Photo: Lamay Photo

“In 1998, he began to use his own paintings as the starting point for new, autonomous works. He would take a finished picture, use it to create a silkscreen, and then reassign the image wholesale to a new canvas. Simple as this transfer might seem, it effects a distinct metamorphosis. Whereas the source paintings are characterised by ghostly layers and subtly rendered details, in the second generation all visual information is flattened into a crisply delineated silhouette of the original, creating a stark, monochrome polarity between ground and image.”

K. Brinson, ‘Trouble is my business’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2013, p. 46

Untitled

2001
silkscreen ink on linen
274.3 x 182.8 cm.; 108 x 72 in.
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill
Photo: Lamay Photo

“The silkscreen process allows Wool to play with scale, repetition, and rhythm. At the same time, it makes all of his work available as a repertory of form. At the heart of his corpus, the question of originality has entirely disappeared. Thus the same form, for example a big spray-painted loop, can be presented in its own right, then reproduced by screen-printing, without affecting its ‘status’.”

A. Pontégnie, ‘At the Limits of Painting’, in Christopher Wool, New York: Taschen, 2008, p. 314

Minor Mishap

2001
silkscreen on linen
274.3 x 182.9 cm.; 108 x 72 in.
Photo: Lamay Photo

“The perfect splash of Wool’s Minor Mishap resembles completely a successful abstract expressionist gesture, maybe a Clyfford Still painting. But it is also a sort of archeiropoieta - an icon not made by hand. If you can see Mother Theresa’s face in a raisin bun then you could see an agonised Christ in this dark orange drip of silkscreen ink. You could see a lot of things. It is certainly an evocative abstraction and this sort of accidental abstract reminds us of the spectral image-evoking power of abstract art at its best. The archeiropoieta of the 9th century, miraculously produced images, were seen as proof that iconoclasm was against the will of God. Undoubtedly the capacity for the miraculous is indelibly ingrained in humanity, and the best random productions of Wool’s process have that kind of evocative power. The drip of Minor Mishap is, in fact, reused again and again as a silkscreen component in other works, an icon of accident.”

G. O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, in Christopher Wool, Cologne: Taschen, 2012, p. 12

Untitled

2007
enamel on linen
320 x 243.8 cm.; 126 x 96 in.
Photo: Tom Powel Imaging

“Pictures of nothingness. If the word paintings were marked by pitch-black forms that appeared haptically modelled from printer’s ink, Christopher Wool now uses the physical dissolution of colour for his compositions. With a colourless solvent, he thins the paint paste down to a liquid consistency that he blurs even further into transparency, as if he wanted to erase whatever still remains visible. Behind this process of erasure and dissolution is a gesture which could suggest to the viewer that Christopher Wool was airing with a certain amount of aggression, as if in denying to paint a readable picture he wanted to quickly and immediately wipe away a possibility of an idea behind the image at all. The process of painting becomes an eloquent expression of erasure, and the areas of obliteration evident in every part of the painting simultaneously become the expression of an attitude - to make something visible invisible.”

F. Meschede, ‘The nothingness before nothing’, in Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Berlin: Galerie Max Hetzler and Holzwarth Publications, 2007, p. 34

Untitled

2011
silkscreen ink on linen
304.8 x 37 3/4 cm.; 120 x 96 in.
Photo: Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART

“ […] the paintings are made with silk screens, and the recurrence of parts of the images tells us that Wool used the same material as the basis for each new work. In fact, he began by photographing small old drawings and printing them out at a hugely inflated scale, which makes their images disintegrate into halftone dots. These blowups might then be worked on with paint, photographed again, fed into Photoshop, and digitally combined with images of other works. […] It is hard to know, though, just looking at the paintings, what the sequence of these moves have been, or which have repeated - and indeed, our inability to trace the steps of their creation is part of their charge. […] the paintings can seem metaphors for consciousness or memory, with portions of the image seeming ghosted, parts returning to the surface, and other sections blocked out. […] Wool’s new paintings […] take up ideas that the artist has long considered: Is a painting based on another abstract painting itself abstract? What kinds of marks are viable after gestural expressionism has been so rigorously questioned?”

M. Godfrey, ‘Close-Up’, in Artforum, Summer 2011

a.k.a.

2016
portfolio of eight lithographs
107.9 x 86.7 cm.; 42 1/2 x 34 in.
edition of 29
Photo: def image

The set of eight lithographs entitled a.k.a., 2016, shows random combinations of letters and numbers in a common serif font, entangled with anarchic winding lines. To create these works, Wool blindly typed the letters and numbers on a computer keyboard, recalling the artistic tradition of écriture automatique. The additional swirling loops with their elaborate strokes and the traces of seemingly unintended graphite-like abrasions evoke Wool's sprayed line paintings and his recent wire sculptures.

Playing with the aesthetic means of accident, the title of the work seems programmatic: “a.k.a.” is the well-known abbreviation for “also known as”, pointing to the associative range that the lithographs offer beyond a defined meaning. On the one hand, the viewer may decipher the lettering in a subjective way giving them a personalised meaning. On the other hand, the apparently senseless combination of numbers and letters recalls passwords which grant access to hidden content.