PORTO, PORTUGAL.- The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (www.serralves.com) inaugurates an exhibition devoted to the work of the renowned American painter Christopher Wool. At Serralves, Wool will present approximately 20 carefully chosen works from his most recent production which are confronted with approx. 15 additional works that date a number of years further back. Thus the public will be able to follow the migration of Wools abstract, painterly imagery through different media, namely the medium of unique creation, and the medium of reproduction which is implemented by various uses of the silkscreen technique.
Serralves considers this ambitious exhibition one of our most important recent shows devoted to the work of international ‘mid-career’ artists. At the same time it contributes to a discussion on the state of painting which previously has been fueled at Serralves by shows devoted to the work of Raoul De Keyser, Moshe Kupferman, Katharina Grosse, Herbert Brandl, Adrian Schiess, Helmut Dorner, etc.
Christopher Wool was born in 1955 in Chicago. He is presently living in New York and runs a second studio in Marfa, Texas. Wool’s work has been shown extensively in the United States and Europe and he is widely considered a leading painter of our time. Nevertheless, the complexity and subtlety of his work have prevented it from becoming a household item like the work of some other artists of his generation. In a certain sense Wool is still a ‘painter’s painter’ whose work waits to be discovered by the public at large. The present show is the first time that Christopher Wool, who was included in Serralves’ ‘The 80s: A Topology’, is given a comprehensive exhibition in Portugal.
Wool started to exhibit in the second part of the 1980s. Like other New York artists who emerged at that time – Robert Gober and Cady Noland, for instance – he took as starting point for his own work premisses of minimalism and conceptualism that were infused with signs of precarious contemporary socio-cultural conditions. Punk at that time was a decisive reference. Since his beginnings Wool has developed a body of painting (and also of photography and bookmaking) informed by the implementing and questioning of different types of vernacular and painterly elements of signification.
Wool’s work from the first ten years of his career is known for extended white surfaces covered with regular patterns mostly in black, applied with rubber rollers of the type used to decorate the walls of low-income homes, and another type of painting which presents single words or short texts applied with stencils. Until the mid-1990s Wool would use mechanical tools to implement painterly marks without a trace of the ‘hand of the artist’. At the same time, however, the pristine surfaces of those paintings are usually disturbed by carefully invited accidents such as slips of the roller or drips of paint. Such deviations from perfection can be as unsettling as the content of texts that are used for particular paintings such as “The show is over the audience get up to leave their seats time to collect their coats and go home they turn around no more coats and no more home”, or “Sell the house, sell the car, sell the kids”, taken from Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now.
From the mid-1990s onwards Christopher Wool considerably broadened the range of his painterly procedures: he enlarged details of certain patterns and silkscreened them on a white support, he painted out parts of a print, he sprayed across a completed surface, etc. In such works he mixed and overlaid freely painted parts and reproduced elements, figurative items and gestural strokes, finely detailed shapes and large blotches of paint. It appears the painter’s main concern to collect different signifiers – some with obvious art historical references, others with everyday references (abstract expressionism, minimalism, street graffiti, wall painting) –, and at the same time to prevent each of them from prevailing and thus attracting pre-eminent meaning. Drawing the stuff of his paintings from different sources and subjecting the chosen elements to various processes of painterly realisation, Wool makes sure that his works are informed by suspended meaning. There is a decisive tension between the ‘cool’ look of many of Wool’s paintings and their apocalyptic presence.
Since 2002 Wool has made work that unfolds a highly sophisticated reconsideration of painterly abstraction. From then on, one part of his work has been freely painted, more precisely the paintings are generated through a process of marking and wiping out of those marks. They adopt the look of abstract paintings but don’t partake in any of Abstraction’s ideologies. Each achieved item of painterly signification (e.g., space, gesture, positive/negative, figure/ground, black/white) is also cancelled out so that the non-meaning of a work appears as its ultimate content. That procedure of cancellation is even taken beyond the edges of the individual canvas when Wool opposes a hand-painted work with a photographically reproduced and silkscreened version which in turn adopts the status of a work in its own right. Wool’s recent paintings may be considered zones of what the audience is confronted with when they rise after the spectacle and turn to go home.
The show is accompanied on the one hand by a catalogue representing and reflecting the exhibition and on the other hand by an artist’s book illustrating all of the approx. 45 works (paintings and works on paper) from 2006 to 2008.