Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool at the Art Institute of Chicago,
 through May 11

Deep-pocket collectors of contemporary art like to be annoyed, puzzled, and intimidated.    And they have an appetite for nihilism – which must play, for them, like a kind of horror movie. Terrible things may be happening up on the screen, but they are safely ensconced in plush, comfy seats at the theater. Christopher Wool has been serving that market well for thirty years.

Art museum professionals must accommodate such collectors, but their tastes are likely to run wider and deeper. They have probably loved historical art their entire lives – which is why they chose that career in the first place. So they want to be pleased as well as puzzled, and prefer understatement, or even minimalism, to more aggressive kinds of contemporary art. The Art Institute of Chicago has run big shows for Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly, and its directors have shown a special affection for Ellsworth Kelly. But no such attention has been paid to Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, or Richard Prince.

Which might also explain the decorative and calligraphic “Gray Paintings” of Christopher Wool. They appeal to lovers of traditional art – which might even include the artist himself, and stand quite apart from the text paintings that deliver messages you don't want to read with typography you don't want to see.

They’re large enough to dominate the walls of Regenstein Hall – just like the Baroque tapestries that hung there two years ago – but  have the dramatic spontaneity of a single hand snaking bold but casual lines against a blurry background. An entire room full is a thrilling and refreshing oasis from the rest of the large retrospective. The Jasper Johns “Gray” show, in 2008, never looked this good.

Unfortunately, it only took about two years, 2007 – 2008, for the artist to purge whatever lyricism afflicted him. Thereafter he returned to the  obliterations, blotches, and frustrated scrawls  that are just as annoying as his text paintings.

It makes you wonder what he might done had the contemporary art market not valued  pleasure so much  less than pain.

(note:  I really like this review that New City printed )

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