Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2010
Christopher Wool, Trouble, 1989
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 1987
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 1994
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2000
Christopher Wool, Minor Mishap, 2001
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2001
Christopher Wool, Absent Without Leave (DAAD, 1993), 1993
Christopher Wool, East Broadway Breakdown, 1994–95/2002
Nearly 30 years ago, Christopher Wool’s art took an eventful turn. He’d already exhibited some of his minimalistic, black-and-white paintings when he sat down one day with a bunch of old lettering stencils. The resulting in-your-face proclamations—including lifted bits of Hollywood dialogue—were game-changing. The first to debut, a quote from the famous farewell letter in Apocalypse Now, appeared in a 1988 group show. “I remember being there, thinking, What have I done?” Wool recalls. Today, that same painting is expected to fetch a record $15 million at Christie’s Fall Auctions. Meanwhile, Wool himself is readying for a major retrospective of his paintings and photos at the Guggenheim, where TONY caught up with him.
Besides texts, your paintings have featured wallpaper patterns, and stuff that looks like Abstract Expressionism via Warhol’s silk screen. How does that all fit together?
I’m an abstract painter, but I’d also consider myself an image maker, since I think there’s such a thing as an abstract picture. I work pretty instinctually; I don’t really think of these things until afterwards.
Why stick so much to black and white in your work?
I’m not disinterested in color. But I’d say I’m more interested in light than in color. The question, however, implies that the work is less visual somehow, and I don’t think that’s the case.
This show is a pretty big deal. How do you feel it will turn out?
I think it’s looking good, though I really don’t know what to expect. I’m aware that the audience will be way, way bigger than any I’ve engaged before. But I’m trying not to think about any of that beforehand, because I’d probably shit in my pants.