CHRISTOHER WOOL at the Guggenheim Museum
October 25, 2013-January 22, 2014
From Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, and the movie,
Apocalypse Now, Kurtz writes home this horrific passage to his wife.
Without knowing this explanation, I thought this work on paper was funny, a joke; as a parent I admit to occasionally feeling that it’s all too much. Housekeeping is an overbearing chore; maintaining the car can be overwhelming, especially when you’re out of gas, nowhere near a gas station, the kids are fusing in the back seat, and a neighbor runs into your car on an icy winter road. Then I read about Kurtz and his desperate life as a soldier and this note to his wife. The horror of it is traumatic. So much for my projection of mistaken humor…
In You Make Me, I thought Wool was referring to the idea that the viewer, me, completed the artist’s art by being there to experience the art work. Without this completion, the art is mere matter. With this “double dip” his art lives in me and in other viewers. Again, according to Richard Hell in another online explanation, I projected a perspective proposed by Duchamp in a 1957 talk, apparently not at all what the artist’s work is about.
Fool. I read on the wall label that this was an exercise in geometry and a self-portrait, perhaps as a play on the artist’s last name. I enjoyed his humor, especially poking fun at viewers who may take offense at his lack of art historical seriousness.
It’s one thing to decipher what Wool’s art is according to Wool and reviewers, another to approach this experience without prior knowledge of the artist and his art but only equipped with one’s own life and art experience.
In addition to Wool’s “language” art, he showed three other bodies of work at the Guggenheim – pattern paintings, gesture paintings, and photographs. The pattern paintings employ digital and silk screen techniques which often have blurs, smudges, overlaps, or imperfections, adding the human element overriding the mechanical look. The gesture work combines the line and the stroke as smudge, perhaps a reference to abstract expressionism and automatism, Pollack and de Kooning if you will. Wool was trying to find a direction after the triumph of mid century American art, the same quandary many other American artists have faced. A few series of Wool’s photographs are also shown but I avoided delving into that body of work which didn’t particularly interest me, only so much my eyes and mind can attend/apprehend.
I used to tell my college art students to be selective, to pick and choose what to focus on in a gallery or museum. First go with your gut, what appeals to you visually. Then read the labels, statements, reviews, etc. Add written thoughts to visual experience. That’s what I did here at this show – glad to realize that I practice what I preach! Analyze / Synthesize is one approach for viewing art or put another way – the four Rs: Respond, Reveal, Rework, Reward!
Some additional review of Christopher Wool’s Show
How to Talk About Art: Christopher Wool Edition (#H2TAA)
by Cat Weaver on November 20, 2013,
From the Tate: “You Make Me’ is an ambiguous phrase suggesting both coercion and completeness…Wool appropriates texts from sources such as films, but uses repetition or unexpected intervals between words and letters to fracture meaning. Here the words are stacked up, disrupting our ability to read them as a fluid sentence.”
Interview Magazine: “Richard Hell: We first got acquainted when Christopher called me up about using some words. This was 1997 or 1998. He wanted to ask my permission to use the words that I’d written on my chest on the cover of my Blank Generation album, as the text for a word painting….I’m standing there holding my jacket open, and I don’t have a shirt on underneath. And in Magic Marker I have across my chest, in all caps: YOU MAKE ME ____. ”
www.vulture.com Jerry Saltz reports, “Peter Schjeldahl came right out and wrote that he does “fondly wish … for a champion whose art is richer in beauty and charm.” For me, Wool’s work has a lot of both.
A Christopher Wool Show at the Guggenheim, Roberta Smith, New York Times, 10/24/13