Painting’s eloquent eulogy in Christopher Wool retrospect at the Guggenheim

Christopher Wool Trouble, 1989 Enamel and acrylic on aluminum, 182.9 x 121.9 cm © Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool
Trouble, 1989
Enamel and acrylic on aluminum, 182.9 x 121.9 cm
© Christopher Wool

See my Christopher Wool review in Metro New York published Friday, December 20, 2013.

See my Christopher Wool review on published Wednesday, December 24, 2013

Christopher Wool brings Painting to its extinction in his largest exhibition to-date.

The Christopher Wool retrospective on view at the Guggenheim unfolds dramatically up the museum’s rotunda, where the artist’s dominantly black-and-white paintings, photographs, and works on paper perfectly contrast with the museum’s low-lit corridors.

Wool rose as a Neo-Expressionist painter in the ‘80s and later developed into an artist critical of painting itself. Over 90 works are on view showcasing his many styles including appropriated pattern and text works, photojournalist-style photography, and his most recent abstract pieces involving collage, erasure, silk-screening, and double manipulation.

Wool’s oeuvre reaches across processes, annihilating the boundaries of painting to reexamine conventional modes of creation. His artwork is a testament to seeing, and illusive techniques force one to continually question a piece’s medium. His black-and-white “paintings,” for instance, are not quite painted, but rather a synthesis of forms: painting, drawing, digital media, graphic design, and graffiti.

This ambiguity of genre — his works’ unwillingness to be categorized — adds power to otherwise simple creations such as his chameleon trompe l’oeil works, where what appears painted is actually a silkscreen, and vice versa.

In “Trouble” (1989), large bold enamel and acrylic letters “T-R-B-L” scroll across an aluminum base, utilizing Gestalt psychology to create a total idea from simplified parts. His “Minor Mishap” (2001) is a deceptive trick; its orange abstract expressionist brushstrokes are not painted but is silkscreen ink on linen, the exact technique made famous by Andy Warhol. In “Untitled” (2000), expressive letters declare “THE-HARDER-YOU-LOOK-THE-HARDER-YOU-LOOK.” This tautology may be a statement about his witty artistic ethos; his artwork deceives, but does not betray, and remains a delight to experience.

Unfortunately, not on display is Wool’s “Apocalypse Now” (1988), an emulsion painting created with alkyd resin and flashe on aluminum and steel that announces in bold letters “SELL THE HOUSE-SELL THE CAR-SELL THE KIDS,” a line from Francis Ford Coppola’s movie of the same name. It recently sold at Christie’s on Nov. 13 for $26,485,000, a record for the artist to date and the sixth-most-valuable work ever sold at public auction.

After seeing this retrospect you will realize why Wool is ranked as one of the top ten most-valuable living artists today.

Christopher Wool "Untitled" 2000

Christopher Wool
“Untitled” 2000

If you go:

“Christopher Wool” through Jan. 22, 2014

Fridays – Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 5:45 p.m.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,

1071 5th Avenue

General admission




  1. erickuns · December 11, 2013

    Mind if I differ? I looked Wool up. Not impressed. I think text on canvas died with Richard Prince, the first time he did it. Ed Ruscha was better at it, and even his stuff is only so interesting. But Wool… I’m trying soooooo hard to not do a parody. I’m just dying to do one. His stencil stuff begs to have the piss taken out of it.

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