Critics’ Picks

Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2007, enamel on linen, 120 x 96".


Christopher Wool

Museum Ludwig, Cologne
April 21–July 1

Around thirty large-format works—as well as the series of photographs titled “East Broadway Breakdown,” 1995—provide a representative overview of Christopher Wool’s work and its evolution over time. For the most part, though, this exhibition––in honor of Wool’s winning of this year’s Wolfgang Hahn Prize––concentrates on paintings and silk-screen prints made after 2006. None of the artist’s renowned word paintings are included, although the museum’s collection has two. Rather, the works on view evince his development of nongestural, ornamental, and allover effects, as well as his radical experimentation with abstract figuration, and more specifically its dissolution into pictorial space.

The inception of this line of inquiry is seen in two “flower paintings” made in 1994 and 1995––both of which are composed of floral patterns, reminiscent of wallpaper, with black contours and white overpainting in certain areas––and in numerous abstract sprayed paintings produced around the same time. In the latter, Wool moves the floral motifs into the realm of abstraction with intentionally improvisational lines. This juxtaposition of abstraction and objective representation demonstrates that he is less interested in the opposition between the two than in producing an ambivalent, almost musical, formalized pictorial space, in which line and plane melt into irregular, multilayered patterns. Wool reduces his painting practice, which deploys almost exclusively black and gray tones, to just a few parameters: contour, blurring, fade-out, and effacement.

Though the painterly gesture is tied to the hand throughout––Wool’s lines are airbrushed––it is fundamentally anti-expressive because the rounded strokes are pronouncedly awkward. Wool reproduces several of these paintings in silk screen, which he then works over with paint. There is something productively ambivalent in this technique: “The eye wanders over the picture in the same way, but the impression is different,” writes the artist, “and ironically the silk screen reproduction could easily be the more direct [of the two].” Wool’s artistic practice thus effects a paradox––producing pictures out of the constructed denial of the pictorial.

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.