Christopher Wool at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne

(C) Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

In the 1980s Wool became well known for his word paintings: He was writing few words in large black letters on white canvases.


He frequently uses stencils and paints or sprays black color on the canvas. The color sometimes is still dripping down, which might be a painted remark on the struggle between action painting and pop art.


Some of the words were quotations taken from movies. Like his work ‘Apocalypse Now’ of 1988. He wrote ‘Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids.’ on a canvas. It was a quotation of this movie by a maverick US army colonel (played by Marlon Brando) gone nuts in the Vietnam War. Some critics read this as a critique to the American dream. But I think this alone is all too simple.


Not all words always make sense to me. Some might also have been taken in the Dada tradition of mixing up words and forming new sentences by putting them together again unintentionally.


Sometimes he also varies the distance between the letters in order make it more difficult to read the text properly.


For me Wool shows the limitations of language in these paintings.


The exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne focuses more on his work after the word paintings.   There are 30 large scale paintings and silk-screens analyzing
  • Line
  • Form
  • Object / Representation
  • Original / Reproduction
  • Depth / Flatness of a painting
  • Arrangement within the canvas
There are various layers of lines, paintings, spray painting, floral ornaments or silkscreen (re)prints interacting with each other

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(C) Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Often he drew lines on the canvas by hand paint or spray gun. Then he smudges parts of it out with a cloth dipped in solvent. This creates an intense tension between the clear lines and the smudged areas. Which is the original?


In other paintings you think you realized the original gesture of painting or element of an ornament - later you realize it is just a silkscreen reproduction.


This way the paintings remain exciting over a long period of time. They are riddles for the eye.


Christopher Wool was bon in Chicago in 1955 and lives and works now in New York City. He participated in Documenta IX and the Whitney Biennial of 1989. Today he is also awarded the German Wolfgang-Hahn-prize for his work.


I like the work of Christopher Wool. It often looks very simple at first sight, but offers many insights about decisions in the making of pictures.


The exhibition ‘Christopher Wool. Porto – Cologne’ is a co-production by Fundacio de Serralves, Museu de Arte Contemporânea, in Porto, Portugal, and Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Credits to the curators Julia Friedrich and Ulrich Loock.


Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany: From 21st April – 12th July 2009.


By U.G.L.



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