Friday, November 15, 2013

Christopher Wool. The Guggenheim Museum.

Pulling the wool over our eyes.

I didn’t hate this show as much as I thought I would, but I still didn’t like it very much. To me it’s another emperor’s new clothes exhibit, a minor in a big way exhibition of tedious and dull paintings that seem to be more about graphic design and decoration than about painting. I also can’t understand why a major museum would even give a show to this minor artist (it might help that one of the trustee’s owns one of his works) or maybe they just threw some names in a hat and randomly picked out his name. The show is a mixture of his banal decorative paintings that mix silly innocuous floral motifs and flower images, pretty stenciled patterns and sometimes big but elegant globs of enamel paint along with his touted word paintings that are comprised of big-stenciled letters broken up in unusual arrangements that make up big awkward looking words and phases that are like puzzles and reminded me of the “if you can read this” word games. Pop meets conceptual meets minimal. Actually one of his word paintings is made up of a big FO on top of a big OL and who exactly is the fool? Me?, You?, Him? or all of us for buying into this work. His later works are more “abstract” and are somewhat aggressively applied with looping black lines using spray guns and sometimes touched with smudges of gray patches arrived at by his using rags with turpentine on them and moving them across the canvas. There really is nothing new or exciting going on here, as artists have been using these techniques forever and with much better results. As I said they are huge, and to some I guess this makes them seem important. I have nothing against big works, see for instance the fine Richard Serra show now on at the Gagosian Gallery on 21st street. Happily the Robert Motherwell show of his beautiful but fussy collages, (he was the most fussy of the Abstract Expressionists) is situated in between the Wool array and came as sort of an intermission, a robust burst of vibrant color and design that was like a big glass of ice cold water thrown in my face, an oasis in all this gloomy gray and black. But that break only lasted until I walked back out on the ramp and by the time I reached the final top bays I was numb with boredom, and dulled by the sameness of most of the work which are mostly black and white and gray with touches of well placed color here and there all of which are nicely composed and arranged like appealing magazine layouts on very very big canvases that are usually applied with rollers and are sometimes made using silkscreen and digital processes. They’re like visual Muzak” a term coined by the art critic Lucy Lippard to describe Jules Oliski’s paintings and can just as easily be applied to Wool’s works. Of course they come with an intellectual pretentiousness but with a downtown hip beat that also make them seem smart and important to some critics and curators, but they are basically empty and sometimes pretty things to hang in your very big dinning room. There are also rows and rows of his tragically bad black and white photographs mounted in many of the museum’s bays along with some of his inconsequential and weak drawings none of which help his case as to why he has been granted this most favorable spotlight.


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