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Christopher
Wool

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Biography

Chicago-born artist Christopher Wool’s works blur the boundaries between art, text and the conceptual, drawing from the influences of graffiti. Inspired by the vibrant and ground-breaking graffiti scene of 1980s New York – his adoptive home – Wool began to experiment with text during the late 1980s, and has since become well-known for both his typographic and abstract works.

Untitled (Riot) by Christopher Wool

Untitled (Riot) © Christopher Wool 1990

1. £23.1M for Christopher Wool's Untitled (Riot)

The most expensive painting by Wool at auction, Untitled (Riot) sold for US$29.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York on 12 May 2015, over double its US$12 million low estimate. Wool was first inspired to make his word painting in 1987. He was walking in New York’s Lower East Side when he saw a white truck with ‘SEX’ and ‘LUV’ graffitied on its side. The contrast between the words and the white background was a lightbulb moment for the artist, who created his own painted version after returning to his studio. These word paintings are now Wool’s most famous and recognisable artworks.

Apocalypse Now by Christopher Wool

Apocalypse Now © Christopher Wool 1988

2. £17.2M for Christopher Wool's Apocalypse Now

Created in 1988, Apocalypse Now was one of Wool’s earliest word paintings and the first that he publicly exhibited. The text was inspired by a scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now, as well as the famous Black Monday Wall Street crash a year earlier. “It was an experiment,” Wool said of making and exhibiting Apocalypse Now. “Previously, I had been making abstract paintings, so it was certainly a departure. I was still young and extremely insecure.” His worries stopped when the gallerist Paula Cooper saw the painting and said it reflected her sentiments exactly. “I immediately relaxed,” recalled Wool.

Apocalypse Now sold at Christie’s in New York on 12 November 2013 for US$26.5 million, soaring past its estimate of US$15-20 million.

If You by Christopher Wool

If You © Christopher Wool 1990

3. £14.0M for Christopher Wool's If You

The sale of Wool’s If You at Christie’s in New York on 13 May 2014 followed a very successful year for the artist. In 2013, Wool’s major retrospective exhibition opened at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, establishing him as one of America’s most notable living artists. The sale of Apocalypse Now at Christie’s in November 2013 (no. 2 on this list) also set a new auction record price for Wool. If You, a similarly bold and gritty work, sold for US$23.7 million against a low estimate of US$20 million. Another version of the same phrase sold for a top auction price in 2016.

Untitled by Christopher Wool

Run Dog Run © Christopher Wool 1991

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