Christopher Wool (b.1955) has emerged as one of the most important abstract painters of his generation. The artist—who was born and raised in Chicago and today divides his time between New York City and Marfa, Texas—is perhaps best known for his paintings of large stenciled letters, which he uses to form words or phrases, often abbreviated or arranged in run-on configurations that disrupt ordinary patterns of perception or speech. As this exhibition attests, however, Wool has employed a very wide range of styles and painterly techniques far beyond these now-iconic word paintings. He has used spray, screens, stencils, rags, solvents, air guns, and other tools to re-imagine the possibilities of gestural mark-making on a surface. He also often uses photographs of his own paintings as a source for new paintings, taking images of particular passages or gestures—best understood as outtakes or samples—and then transmitting them onto aluminum or linen grounds anew through silkscreen, either alone on a surface or in combination with enamel. And even though the majority of his works are black and white, color also makes rare appearances.
Combining aspects inherited from Abstract Expressionist art of the 1950s (painterly gesture), Pop Art of the 1960s (the use of silkscreen and other reproductive technologies as well as the influence of street culture), and Conceptual Art of the 1970s (the use of language), Wool’s work simultaneously draws from the recent history of art and points to entirely new possibilities for the future of painting. At the heart of his creative project, which now spans more than three decades, is the question of how a picture can be conceived, realized, and experienced today. The paintings and works on paper for which he is best known accrue their raucous authority from an interrogative approach to technique and process, and from their cool refusal to abandon the lingering possibilities of authentic expression through language, mediated gesture, and abstraction.
This retrospective will fill the museum’s Regenstein Hall with a rich selection of paintings, photographs, and works on paper, forming the most comprehensive examination to date of Wool’s career.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
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