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Issue 230

Christopher Wool’s Process of Enlargement and Manipulation

The artist opens Xavier Hufkens redesigned St-Georges space with several recent bodies of painting, photography and sculpture

BY Laura Herman

 in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 01 AUG 22

Thirty years after repurposing a 19th-century maison de maître into a gallery space for Xavier Hufkens, Robbrecht and Daem Architects were invited to revise and expand their original design, nearly tripling the St-Georges venue in size and providing each of the four floors with distinct proportions and lighting. For the relaunch, Hufkens called upon curator Anne Pontégnie to consolidate her 20-year collaboration with US artist Christopher Wool. The exhibition – containing several interrelated bodies of work, mostly made during the past five years – is Wool’s first, large-scale solo presentation since his 2014 retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2022, copper-plated bronze, 153 × 143 × 70 cm. Courtesy: © Christopher Wool and Xavier Hufkens; photograph: Farzad Owrang

In a change from Wool’s celebrated stencilled text paintings and renowned interest in the painterly process, the show features media comparatively new to his practice, such as photography, bookmaking and sculpture. In the first room hangs a large silkscreen painting (Untitled, 2019), accompanied by two large sculptures in copper-plated steel (both Untitled, 2022) and a series of 18 gelatin silver prints (Road, 2018), depicting the desolate dust and gravel roads of the Marfa desert where Wool began living part-time 15 years ago.

In the following rooms, the interconnections between the distinct bodies of work are made more apparent. At the back of the gallery, for example, a large window looks out onto a 3.4-metre-high bronze wire sculpture (Untitled, 2021) installed in the garden. The work bears a clear relationship to the photographs of the artist’s sculptures made from barbwire found at ranches: both are reminiscent of the tumbleweeds that drift through the arid desert landscape (Bad Rabbit, 2022). The juxtaposition with the outside work, however, complicates our understanding of scale: the photographed pieces could be as monumental as the cast work beyond or as small as the actual wire sculptures presented on plywood and MDF plinths on the first floor (all Untitled, 2014). 

Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2019, silkscreen ink on linen, 3 × 2.4 m. Courtesy: © Christopher Wool and Xavier Hufkens; photograph: Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART

In the adjacent room, a frenzied wire sculpture (Untitled, undated) hangs from the ceiling, its asymmetrical shape echoing the loopy, doodle-like drawings on paper presented on the walls. Yet, Wool’s newfound passion for sculpture into three-dimensional work also stems from spending time in the barren landscape of West Texas. In a conversation with Pontégnie at the gallery, Wool said he ‘started taking pictures of junk that amused him as sculpture’ – car tyres, building materials and remnants dotting the landscape – which, in an echo of Martin Kippenberger’s artist book Psychobuildings (1988), he called ‘psychosculptures’.

Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2019, bronze, 87 × 125 × 30 cm. Courtesy: © Christopher Wool and Xavier Hufkens; photograph: Farzad Owrang

In the basement-level space, the artist repeats the process of enlargement and manipulation in two-dimensional works. Three silkscreen paintings (all Untitled, 2019) are presented in conjunction with five monotypes (all Untitled, 2014), each of which lays bare the process of chance and accident in reproduction that defines the work. The backgrounds are details from the earlier monotypes, digitally manipulated and printed at an inflated scale.

If Wool’s impressions of wandering through the nocturnal streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Chinatown permeated his 1990s paintings, his move to Marfa marks his recent formal language and abstract procedures. While, at times, the appropriation of found industrial materials and landscapes of austerity feels a bit disconcerting, the exhibition, carefully composed of interconnected works, some of which derive from or echo one other, lays out the recent evolutions in Wool’s practice in a cohesive and deeply nuanced way. 

Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2021, oil and silkscreen on paper, 1.3 × 1 m. Courtesy: © Christopher Wool and Xavier Hufkens; photograph: Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART

What’s most striking about this inaugural exhibition is the gallery’s unexpected decision to present Wool in Europe at a time when art-world concerns have been shifting towards figuration and underrepresented practices. It signifies the gallery’s uncompromising dedication to artists it truly believes in. Wool’s works also prove to be an apt fit with the new gallery’s cascading architecture, its concrete blocks and play with scale.

Main image: Christopher Wool, Untitled (detail), 2020, oil and inkjet on paper, 56 × 43 cm. Courtesy: © Christopher Wool and Xavier Hufkens; photograph: Tim Nighswander/IMAGING4ART