Christopher Wool, See Stop Run @101 Greenwich

JTF (just the facts): A total of 59 black-and-white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against unfinished sheetrock walls. (Installation shots below.)

The photographic works included in the show are as follows:

  • 1 set of 18 inkjet prints (“Bad Rabbit”), 2022, each sized 9×12 inches
  • 1 set of 18 gelatin silver prints (“Road”), 2018, each sized 9×12 inches
  • 1 set of 18 gelatin silver prints (“Westtexaspyschosculpture”), 2018, each sized 9×12 inches
  • 5 gelatin silver prints (“Incident on 9th Street”, from a series of 13 prints), 1997, each sized 11×14 inches (or the reverse)

The show also includes 64 other works in various mediums, including copper plated bronze, wire, oil and inkjet on paper, oil and etching on paper, silkscreen ink on linen, enamel on aluminum, enamel on paper, pigmented cement, and mosaic, made between 1995 and 2024. The show was curated by Anne Pontégnie.

Comments/Context: Christopher Wool is at a point in his artistic career where he has established himself firmly enough to buck much of the conventional wisdom about how to display his work. His new show, which opened in March, will run through the end of July, a full four months, not the usual six weeks and out gallery cycle. He’s staged this survey of his recent works in something like the opposite of a white cube gallery space – the entire unoccupied floor (some 18,000 square feet) of a random building in the Financial District, the space roughly unfinished with wires, sheetrock, and concrete exposed everywhere, with plenty of windows looking out on the city. And he’s liberally mixed different kinds of works from the past decade, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and even mosaics, disregarding the idea that they need to somehow conform to an idea of a single project or even a particular arc of aesthetic thinking. In short, he’s essentially rejected the entire approach to showing art that we have come to accept as reality (even though he is still represented by Luhring Augustine), and crafted something that better fits the way he wants his varied works to be seen – and it’s fabulous.

The idea that context matters lies at the heart of Wool’s overt pushback on art world assumptions. This show rejects the fundamental concept that art looks “best” in a blank, neutral space, and instead allows and encourages Wool’s new works to actively interact with the surrounding environment. The scratchy, gutted office space is filled with spray painted marks, cut and taped sheetrock, twists of hanging wire, plastered over holes, and see-through views that run from side to side and window to window across the entire floor. As installed, Wool’s various works liberally interact with these details, creating sophisticated echoes of form, color, gesture, shape, texture, and negative space, all of which feel altogether thoughtful and natural. In a few cases, the curatorial inspiration is serendipitously clever, with the gestures in the works mimicking features in the raw surroundings with surprising grace and fidelity, making the unfinished surfaces and geometries of the space feel like found artworks in and of themselves.

Photographically, this survey includes examples from four smaller projects, each of which is a stand alone set of ideas but contains compositional elements that connect back to what Wool has been doing in other mediums. A handful of pictures from the series “Incident on 9th Street” are scattered throughout the installation, documenting the aftermath of a fire in Wool’s studio in 1997. The photographs have a Weegee-like flashlit crime scene mood, with broken windows, strewn papers on the floor, open doorways, and the random evidentiary leftovers of artmaking. These images most closely resemble the unfinished installation setting, with the framed pictures hung in such a way that parallels to the architecture of nearby doors, vertical pipes, mottled floors, and even the windows of the building itself are quite evident.

Much more recently (from 2022), Wool’s “Bad Rabbit” series observes the artist’s own wire sculptures, made from scraps of fencing wire found near Marfa, Texas (where he spends part of the year). What’s interesting about these images beyond their worm’s eye documentation of the hand crafted objects is that they create an artistic nesting effect, where the sculptures are flattened by the camera and washed out to contrasty monochromes, where they begin to resemble gestural ink drawings. Some of these small sculptures were then enlarged and cast in other metals (like copper plated bronze) and appear around the installation, and various other drawn and painted works explore similar motifs, creating a series of compositional connections and echoes across the mediums.

When we turn to Wool’s “Road” project (from 2018) depicting various dirt roads near Marfa, we might be tempted to see the rough lines cut through the land as similar to some of Wool’s thicker painted gestures. And while I think that association is valid, the photographs feel more about the slow meditative pace of walking and observing, of being alone outside in the amid the dry dusty scrublands and paying attention to the details of the nearby terrain. Wool’s photographs notice nubby tire tracks, puddles, cast shadows from tree branches, tunneled vistas through greenery, rocky textures, grasses waving in the wind, and even a few high clouds in the distance, each seen with the gravelly patience of someone on foot.

Part of what seems to be going on in many of Wool’s recent projects, and in many ways in this entire installation, is a process of the artist allowing his eye to wander and to uncover sculptural forms wherever he may find them. In his “Westtexaspyschosculpture” project (which we reviewed in photobook form in 2017 here), Wool takes his camera along as he makes his way through Marfa and its environs, making photographs of arrangements of objects in backyards, alleys, and along roadsides, each an unexpectedly sculptural study of found shape and form. The inventory of what he sees is forgettably modest: stacks of cinderblocks, folding chairs, trailers, discarded tires, bent bed frames, rolls of black plastic tubing, water tanks, wooden stairs, and other even less identifiable metal structures and castoff items. But each photograph composes these elements in a way that pays attention to positive and negative space, found geometry, and spatial balance and dynamism with much more compositional sophistication than a mere snapshot.

Seen in proximity and visual dialogue with Wool’s works in painting and sculpture from the past decade, his photographs feel fully integrated, and the risk-taking installation here ties them together with the space itself with a degree of elegant harmony that’s a bit unexpected to be honest. The idea that the gutted floor of an office building could be a logical and even inspired host to a range of material-driven contemporary artworks is a gutsy call, especially since it so obviously disregards the prevailing mindset of the art world. But that brashness feels a bit contagious in this cavernous empty but not empty space, and soon we are seeing the world though Wool’s eyes. It isn’t often that I feel transported by show as much as I did here, mostly because Wool smartly delivers on the challenge he set for himself and further broadens the definitional white space available for his creative endeavors.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are not for sale. Christopher Wool is represented by Luhring Augustine in New York (here) and Xavier Hufkens in Brussels (here). In contrast to the robust auction activity surrounding his paintings, Wool’s photographs have very little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): A retrospective exhibition, hung against white and black walls, in a series of three connected spaces (and their exterior walls) on the museum’s main floor. The ... Read on.

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