American, b. 1955
Signed Wool, dated '84 and inscribed Nora/For your/Generosity + hospitality/Chris/On Labor/Day/'85 on the reverse
Enamel on aluminum backed by particle board
16 x 16 inches (40.64 x 40.64 cm)
Gift of the artist to the current owner, 1985
Untitled, 1984, is an important experiment in Christopher Wool's early career. Created near the end of the artist's period as an assistant to Joel Shapiro and roughly at the time of his first solo show at the Cable Gallery in New York, it is in enamel paint on aluminum, a medium and support that give the piece its flat, reflective quality, and with which Wool has continued to work in the years following. Untitled, 1984 is also an early example of Wool's smudging his line, a technique that he would continue and expand upon in the course of the following decades. To create this effect, he used solvent-soaked rags to play on the abstraction by distorting the initial gesture. Here, splashes of corroded yellow and pockmark-like ringlets left by bubbles surround the gestural loop like a halo, contrasting sharply to the gun-metal blue-gray background. Though the vigorous line of this piece seems at odds with the rigidity of the artist's text-based paintings, its starkness stands in stern opposition to the bright energy of Action Painting, reducing the image to something bleak and detached, like a mug shot of an Abstract Expressionist composition.
In the context of Wool's landmark 2013 Guggenheim retrospective, this abstract work can be seen as a key to what was to come. The Guggenheim exhibition presented no paintings from before 1987, though featured many abstract works that repeat this inky swirl, but many times larger, across massive white aluminum slabs. These works embrace the artist's smudges and smears, their scale and volume equally as imposing as his cherished word paintings. The New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz praised the Guggenheim retrospective enthusiastically, extolling the abstractions in particular: "For me, Wool captures the ways New York looks, sounds, and smells in our time, much as Jackson Pollock's drip paintings embody the city's texture in the fifties. I see Wool creating new order out of all this chaos. I see little epiphanies and glean the same clashing, gritty, seemingly haphazard, abrasive, bludgeoning beauty that all of us who live in and love New York can't live without."
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