‘It allowed me to work quietly’: Christopher Wool explains how two years of relative isolation changed the course of his art
Belgian gallerist Xavier Hufkens inaugurated his renovated four-storey space in Brussels with an extensive solo exhibition dedicated to the American artist Christopher Oldest boymarking their first project together and Oldest boyfirst show in Belgium since 2009.
On view are Lainethe abstract paintings of , which combine serigraphy and other processes; black-and-white photographs of Marfa, Texas, where he lives, as well as New York; and small and large scale sculptures. Many works have been produced during the last two years of relative isolation.
“Having Texas to go to was a great freedom,” Laine, who rarely speaks to the press, told Artnet News. “It allowed me to work quietly, which I don’t always manage to do. I was able to work more than before the pandemic.
What is striking in the exhibition are the relationships between the different media. Although the artist is primarily known for painting, the exhibition suggests that sculpture and photography are also very important to his practice and that these forms of expression are all deeply interconnected.
The photographs, devoid of people, capture abandoned objects, tire lots and barren landscapes. Typological in nature, they convey a feeling of dark emptiness.
Then there are small twisted barbed wire sculptures that Oldest boy found on ranches. Oldest boy enhanced their humble materiality by showing them on pedestals. Larger sculptures expand on these ideas, including some in copper bronze or assembled from 3D printed elements. Asymmetrical and irregular, they maintain a relationship with Oldest boythe superimposed paintings of, with colored lines and smudged shapes.
Dressed in a red and black checked shirt, dark pants and yellow and gray sneakers, his silver hair swept back in a ponytail, 67 Oldest boy cuts an unassuming presence as he talks about his foray into sculpture.
“When I first went to Marfa 15 years ago, I immediately understood that doing sculpture was a rich possibility, but I had no sculptural ideas”, Oldest boy recalled.
He started collecting fencing wire from local ranches not knowing how he could use it. “I saw right away that it reflected my sense of drawing,” he said. “I was collecting yarn before I really thought about doing sculpture.”
The kinds of textual stencil paintings that made Wool famous in the 90s and set his auction record seven years ago are conspicuously absent from the exhibition. In 2015, painting Untitled (Riot) (1990), its capital letters written in enamel, sold for $29.9 million at Sotheby’s.
This is the peak of the artist’s market, two years after his personal exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Request Oldest boyThe work of has contracted considerably since then. Indeed, it could be seen as a victim of changing tastes from abstraction to figuration and of a market that is now less likely to undervalue works by female artists and artists of color.
Hufkens, however, is not intimidated by these market factors.
“The first time I contacted Christopher Oldest boy was 1996,” Hufkens said. “His work has been in my head for many, many years. I thought this would be the perfect combination [for the revamped gallery]perfect with the architecture – a perfect marriage.
Born in 1955 in Boston to a molecular biologist father and a psychiatrist mother, Oldest boy grew up in Chicago and moved to New York during the height of the punk movement in the 70s. His early work is imbued with anarchic energy and influenced by urban aesthetics, advertising, rock n’ roll and graffiti . Despite its success, self-mockery Oldest boy says he does not consider his works to be “masterpieces”.
“Post-modernism is not [about] to do masterpieces, but to do interesting paintings on another level,” he said. “In [American critic] Clement Greenberg’s idea of modernism, there was a model of what you were supposed to follow. I think it turned out to be much more open and interesting than that.
Oldest boy admitted that although his work was technically relatively simple, he still caused bouts of anxiety.
“You can make the decision to go ahead with the painting and regret it, and you can make the decision not to go ahead and also regret it,” he conceded. “My wife [the German artist Charline Von Heyl] and I have a running gag: if you come home from the studio and think, “I had a good day,” things won’t work out so well the next day. And if you go home and think everything went wrong, it must be better the next day.
Wool appeared characteristically muted about the Brussels exhibit. But looking around the show, sprawled out in the flowing, gray concrete space of Hufkens by Belgian architecture firm Robbrecht & Daem, his satisfaction was evident. “Having four floors, each with a different character,” he said, “is ideal for the show.”
“Christopher Wool” is on view at Xavier Hufkens, 6 rue St-Georges, Brussels, Belgium, from June 2 to July 30, 2022.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive breaking news, revealing interviews and incisive reviews that move the conversation forward.