Christopher Wool

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Cool Wool,
Cold Beauty

Paris Update Christopher Wool

”Untitled” (2010) by Christopher Wool.

The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris continues its eclectic and sometimes adventurous program of modern and contemporary art shows featuring artists and movements rarely exhibited in France with “Christopher Wool,” a small show of the recent paintings of an American artist some consider the most interesting abstract painter working today.

Like Gerhard Richter, whose work is currently being shown at the Centre Pompidou, Wool (b. 1955) works and reworks his paintings, but the results are very different. While Richter’s abstracts have an emotional charge and often call up images of other things—a waterfall, for example, or a Monet water-lily painting—Wool’s are cool and purely abstract. Many of the paintings in the MAM show are in black and white, although wonderful colors like brick red, taxi-cab yellow or cherry red sometimes make a splash (though never a haphazard one) across the canvas.

Some of these handsome paintings make you think graffiti, others inkblots and still others Cy Twombly-like squiggles. The wall text speaks of “minimalist rigor” and “somewhat ironic Expressionism,” and while there is some justice in these phrases, these cold, distant beauties don’t lend themselves easily to analysis. The artist himself likes to make enigmatic, Gertrude Stein-ish statements like “The harder you see, the harder you see,” or “A painting of a painting is a painting.”

This last phrase is explained by the fact that Wool’s working method is to constantly reuse motifs from earlier paintings. He also makes use of mechanical processes like silk-screening and photography in his paintings, adding some elements and subtracting others with each new work. The intended effect is to depersonalize the paintings, and it works wonderfully well. When I walked into the room full of them without knowing much about the artist or his work, I was fascinated and pleased by them but somehow couldn’t fathom them or make any connection with them. When I tried to think where they would find a fitting home, I thought of a bank or a dentist’s office. They are lovely, but I miss the luscious sensuality of the paintings of the great Abstract Expressionists – Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, to mention a few.

With only 31 paintings, this exhibition will not take up much of your time, so plan on visiting one of the museum’s other shows – “Crumb,” if you’re a Robert Crumb fan – or the museum’s rather neglected permanent collection of modern art in the basement, with its Fauvist, Cubist, Post-Cubist and Surrealist works. Or you could cross the terrace to the other side of the building and see the triennial exhibition of contemporary art at the Palais de Tokyo, “Intense Proximity.”

Heidi Ellison

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: 11, avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris. Métro: Alma-Marceau or Iéna. Tel.: 01 53 67 40 00. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thursday until 10 p.m.). Closed on public holidays. Admission: €6. Through August 19.

Reader Terry Seligman writes: “When viewing a process-driven work of abstraction like this one, it often helps me to wonder what the very first decision was that the artist had to make… and then the next, and the next, etc. Doing this can help the viewer ‘enter’ or engage with, for example, a painting with no narrative. LOVE Christopher Wool! Thanks for the article.”

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