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Wool black and white painting
Wool black and white painting

Christopher Wool

Untitled, 2016 
Silkscreen ink on linen

Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 9 June – 27 July

Whereas contemporaries such as Richard Prince, or younger artists such as Wade Guyton, use printing techniques to grant their paintings access to imagery and information beyond the reach of postmodern abstraction, Christopher Wool’s fusions of printing and painting are distinguished by their hermeticism. This may be best illustrated where it would seem most contradicted. Published in conjunction with this exhibition are two books of black-and-white photographs of backwoods Americana (Road and Westtexaspsychosculpture, both 2017), picturing light-industrial detritus abandoned in storage lots, piles of old tyres, dirt tracks winding through wiry cottonwoods, a tornado looming on the horizon. They look out at the world, but something about the attention Wool pays to their tonal textures makes them seem more concerned with how they echo the patterning of his largely black-and-white abstract paintings than with documenting the badlands of Texas or upstate New York. They have no apparent investment in the histories, or even the myths, of the places they show. They are the residues of a process that limits itself to a perfectly judged surface.

Wool has always had the mysterious ability to convert this formalism into a statement of loss, the loss of meaning. The random-looking typographical signs printed onto a series of lithographs, a.k.a. (2016), are even less signifying than the words and phrases of his text paintings of the late 1980s; but even those – with their swaggering expletives and elliptical, situationist quotes – were more about language as a pretext for abstract painting than a conveyor of meaning. The gesture towards communication served to highlight the limitation of the sign to its signifier. This introversion can end up as the self-indulgence of l’art pour l’art, as here in a series of works on paper (all Untitled, 2016), in which an image of stains and drips is a reproduced ground for doodled lines and erasures of painting. Process for process’s sake, avowing its futility, is overridden by an indolent air of generating gratuitous but collectable variants.

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