THE PERENNIAL AMBIGUITY OF CHRISTOPHER WOOL
I like Christopher Wool’s artwork. Wool became famous for his paintings of strong, provocative phrases in black letters, primarily ALL CAPS. Wool’s works are of an abstract nature, sometimes intricate in presenting an idea, other times arcanely elusive. In October’s Vogue Dodie Kazanjian scored a rare interview with the media-reclusive artist. The format and presentation of the arguments the writer provides to the text more closely resembles that of an essay, but many intriguing themes come up.
By introducing Willem de Kooning’s approach to artistic work–who worked “out of doubt”–as a starting point, the writer reveals the artistic intentions of Wool to be consistent in their omnipresent questioning and doubting. They are works defined by what Kazanjian calls a “perennial ambiguity.” This ambiguity may also be viewed as the proclamation of the honest confusion of an artist. Thus, the refusal of adopting an authoritative style should not be considered the result of limited intellectual rigor, but rather should be respected for its humility.
Discussing his artistic aspirations and how he managed to become a significant part of the modern art world, Wool asserts that his path was somewhat coincidental. “It just kind of happened,” he states. A key to his success was possibly that his early years in New York coincided with a legendary era of NY nightlife and culture: CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. The intersection of nightlife and the art-reality that was being created was evident in the 1980s, and shaped the public’s perception of artists’ role.
Upon revisiting his old work, the artist himself confesses: “They were offensive, funny, and indelible–you had to pay attention.” Consequently, it is not surprising that the critical response to his work varied. Some thought it populist in its negativity, while others observed in it a radical stance: a cacophonous harmony, or a refreshing pathos. What is predictable in his work is Wool’s lack of “conclusiveness” or the absence of artistic closure.
“I firmly believe it’s not the medium that’s important, it’s what you do with it,” the artist clarifies.
ARIEL PINK’S PERENNIAL AMBIGUITY
In a different medium, Ariel Pink serves as an example of an artist who rejected performing in a “dishonest” manner. Ariel Pink garnered attention for his unique and original home-produced sound, often utilizing unorthodox means–such as using his armpits–to compose melodies. A distinct case that illustrates Ariel Pink’s refusal to perform “dishonestly” was his unwillingness to put on a traditional “show” for live audiences.
“Hey, I’m giving audiences the real thing,” he says with a shrug. “For better or worse, I’m out there, and those are the circumstances. People don’t like it when it seems like you don’t know what’s happening, or I’m getting bummed out with certain aspects and I can’t hide it. I think people feel that pain and just think it’s bad.”
Eventually, Ariel Pink, and the people he worked with to execute his live performances, figured out a way to make his performance accessible to mainstream audiences, or at least less inaccessible.
Was this a success of creative strength or a personal compromise?
Christopher Wool is married to Charline von Heyl, an abstract painter of German origin. In the Vogue article, Von Heyl describes their marriage to as “a marriage about the luxury of being alone together.”
I wonder how much of their partnership was built upon their identities as artists. I cannot decide if that is a romantic triumph or the absolute failure of intimate companionship.