“The harder you look, the harder you look.” —Christopher Wool
It’s no coincidence the Guggenheim Museum is devoting its entire rotunda to Christopher Wool this winter. The artist’s career has seen him draw influence from the most important movements in 20th-century painting—Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Expressionism, graffiti, Minimalism—and create a style entirely his own, in turn influencing a new generation of artists. Here, we examine the complex web of influence Wool has woven over the years.
Richard Pousette-Dart: One of the earliest (and most cerebral) Abstract Expressionists, Richard Pousette-Dart was Wool’s painting teacher at Sarah Lawrence college. In 2011, Wool and Pousette-Dart’s daughter co-curated an exhibition of the painter’s works at Luhring Augustine, the gallery that has represented Wool since 1987.
Jack Tworkov: When Wool moved to New York City’s Lower East Side in 1973, he enrolled in the graduate program at the Studio School, where he would study under Jack Tworkov—another famed Abstract Expressionist painter whose late-career adoption of gridded geometry and a more theoretical practice helped form a bridge with Minimalism.
Joel Shapiro: Wool first saw Joel Shapiro’s sculptures in 1974, which impressed him greatly, and then from 1980 he would spend four years working part-time as Shapiro’s studio assistant. Around this time he was beginning to produce paintings whose “gawky abstract shapes” have been identified as influenced by Shapiro.
Dieter Roth: Roth was a longtime friend of Wool’s father, who had a huge collection of the Swiss artist’s multimedia works in their Chicago apartment, undoubtedly influencing Wool’s unconventional approach to materials. In 1981, Roth visited Wool’s NYC studio and bought a work—Wool’s first sale.
Robert Gober: In 1983, Wool would visit Gober’s studio and see one of his famous fixtureless sink sculptures, prompting him to remark, “I realized he had done something. And I realized I had to do something.” In 1988, the two artists would collaborate on an installation at 303 Gallery, featuring Wool’s iconic painting Apocalypse Now, Gober’s Three Urinals sculpture, and a collaborative photograph.
Richard Prince: In 1988, the like-minded artists collaborated on two paintings. Wool made them, and Prince provided the jokes: “I didn't have a penny to my name so I changed my name” and “I went to see a psychiatrist. He said tell me everything. I did, and now he’s doing my act.” Prince also contributed a glowing essay to the Guggenheim’s “Christopher Wool” exhibition catalogue.
Albert OehlenandMartin Kippenberger: Both cited as some of Wool’s profoundest influences, Oehlen and Kippenberger were two radical German artists who achieved fame in the 1980s; their work challenged the properties of painting and, as gallerist Friedrich Petzel once described, “hailed the productivity of failure.” Wool designed posters for Kippenberger’s exhibitions in the ’90s and has counted Oehlen among his friends since they first met in 1988.
Josh Smith: Often seen as one of the heirs to Wool’s commanding influence, Josh Smith emerged in the ’90s with his aggressive gestural paintings, often featuring semi-abstract renderings of his own name. Wool and Smith collaborated on a project in 2007, titled can your monkey do the dog; the two artists digitally manipulated each other’s artworks and assembled the creations into a published volume.
Charline von Heyl: Last but most certainly not least, we come to German-born painter Charline von Heyl, who has been married to Wool since 1997. Respected completely on her own terms for her similarly expressive, if often more representational style of painting, von Heyl has described her partnership with Wool as “a marriage about the luxury of being alone together.”Explore the Guggenheim Museum’s “Christopher Wool” exhibition on Artsy.