Guggenheim: Pulling Christopher Wool over your eyes

Christopher Wool Guggenheim TRBL
There’s capital “T” and that rhymes with “B” and that’s half of “TRBL.”
Credit: Provided

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

Wool rose as a Neo-Expressionist painter in the 1980s and later developed into an artist critical of painting itself. More than 90 works showcase his many styles, including more recent abstract pieces involving collage, erasure, silk-screening and double manipulation.

Wool annihilates the boundaries of painting, forcing the viewer to continually question a piece’s medium. His black-and-white “paintings,” for instance, are actually 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 like his chameleon trompe l’oeil works, where what appears painted is actually a silkscreen and vice versa.

What to see:

— 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.

— Wool’s “Minor Mishap” (2001) is a deceptive trick; its orange abstract expressionist brushstrokes are not painted — they’re silkscreen ink on linen, the 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 that announces “SELL THE HOUSE-SELL THE CAR-SELL THE KIDS,” a line from Francis Ford Coppola’s movie of the same name. It 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. That makes him one of the most valuable artists of our time.

If you go

‘Christopher Wool’
Through Jan. 22, 2014
Fri.-Wed., 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
1071 Fifth Ave.
General admission $22,
212-423-3500,
www.guggenheim.org


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