Whitehot Magazine

Christopher Wool’s “See Stop Run” Dances in the Dilapidation of 101 Greenwich Street

Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.



In John Berger’s seminal 1972 book Ways of Seeing, the critic wrote, “We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves.” Every image, every artwork, he argued, memorializes “a way of seeing” that is wholly distinct to the artist. Likewise, a viewer’s “perception or appreciation of an image” depends upon her lived experiences, her taste, her preferences—her own way of seeing. If the unyielding walls of “the white cube” amplify these differences between artist, viewer, and subject, what happens when an exhibition space is in such harmony with the artist’s aesthetic that the viewer adopts the artist’s “way of seeing” entirely? This is the question hovering over Christopher Wool’s rightly celebratedSee Stop Run,” a survey of self-referential sculptures, photographs, and mixed-media paintings that appear to have emerged from the exposed wall cavities and spooled electrical wiring adorning the gutted space where they are exquisitely hung. 

For his largest exhibition since 2014, on view through July 31, Wool sought a space “that was not neutral,” said curator Anne Pontégnie, a place that “lets the city in a little.” Indeed, there is nothing neutral about the 19th floor of 101 Greenwich Street, an overlooked former office space in the depths of FiDi. After a lengthy search across Manhattan, Wool and his team settled on this unsophisticated—but expansive—space, located in a 1907 Beaux-Arts building only blocks away from the Freedom Tower. Like Wool’s jagged wire sculptures whose looping curves and barbed edges feel equal parts raw and refined as if one stumbled upon them in nature, the 18,000 square foot construction zone housing “See Stop Run” is a site of discovery. No press release is present, no wall labels, no exhibition summary adhered to a glistening white wall. Instead, a hazardous mix of chunked-up concrete, graffiti scrawled in jest (the requisite penis included), and patterned cakes of peeling paint decorate this shell of a space, establishing a calculated framework through which viewers must encounter Wool’s work.

Installation view. Courtesy of the artist. 

Some may argue that the synchronicities feel overdone, that Wool’s evocation of this grunge aesthetic is a tired attempt to resurrect an era that ran its rightful course. But the candid beauty in the wear and tear of a forgotten office floor made it impossible for me not to sink my teeth in fully, to leave longing to return. Moments after arriving, I found myself “looking at the disregarded with care and attention,” as Pontégnie described Wool’s gaze in an essay, seeing “an unseen world” as a “territory for both formal and existential expression.” I dreamt of halting the city’s inevitable renovation to this cash cow, perhaps even erecting plexiglass over the raw elegance of its stained columns and paint-chipped, gum-colored walls. Indeed, Wool’s decision to hang this ten-year survey of works in a setting so electrically charged with sculptural potential (and loose wiring) snugly reinforces Wool’s interest in empty spaces, a unifying influence for the 72 works in the show.  

Best known for his pugnacious black and white “word paintings” from the 1980s featuring stenciled statements in their signature all caps (such as “AND IF YOU CAN’T TAKE A JOKE YOU CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE” as seen in And If You, 1992), Wool has been a committed painter for most of his career, foraying into 3D only in the last decade. Recently, he has compulsively refashioned one art form into the next, digitally manipulating rejected paintings into inkjet prints, recycling discarded pages of his prized monographs into the backdrop for paintings, and most notably, turning a paint-covered inkjet print into a large-scale mosaic. Each work in “See Stop Run” embodies aspects of its neighboring works, encapsulating the idea of “transformation,” as Pontégnie called it, that lies at the heart of this show. 

Two portfolios of photographs on view—selected from Wool’s Westtexaspsychosculpture and Road monographs—serve as crucial reference points in understanding the recent evolution of Wool’s practice. Black-and-white photographs of the abundant junkyards and meandering desert roads outside of Marfa, these high-contrasted images explore the textural diversity of the West Texas ranchlands with which Wool seems to be intimately intertwined. In Westtexaspsychosculpture (2018), teetering stacks of crates and crumbling cinder blocks become readymades; in Road (2018), a water-filled ditch on a dusty desert path evokes longing, even desire. These landscapes, Wool said, marked the “beginning of thinking about what sculpture could be.” 

Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.

Since then, sculpting with found wire—and subsequently casting his ephemeral creations into copper-plated welded bronze—has become the ultimate bridge between the winding gestures that appear in Wool’s paintings and the transformation of abandoned rural sites into sculptural forms, as accomplished by his photography.  Like the walls around them at 101 Greenwich Street, each an artform in their own right, Wool’s wire sculptures vary dramatically in temperament: they can be rambunctious and tornado-like, flattened and contained, or dainty and ephemeral. 

Ultimately, Wool’s carefully selected exhibition space becomes a stage where these tangible and abstract elements intertwine, echoing his fascination with renewal. Work permit papers flutter near a destruction-filled photograph of Wool’s apartment ravaged by fire; a baby pink casted sculpture with tarnished welded junctions dances with the abstract loops and crisscrossed lines of a painting nearby; the process of erasure and rebirth that appears in each painting and print mimics New York’s ethos of regeneration. As Berger writes, “Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.” Wool, it seems, is caught gloriously in this self-sustaining and ceaseless cycle of seeing, creating, and re-seeing, and with the direction he is headed, there seems to be no definitive end in sight. 

See Stop Run” is on view through July 31, 2024 at 101 Greenwich Street (19th floor), free and open to the public Thursdays to Sundays from 12 to 6pm. WM

Annie Lyall Slaughter

Annie Lyall Slaughter is an arts writer and ceramic artist from Virginia based in New York. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and has been published in Cultured, Artsy Editorial, The Drift, Cultbytes, and other publications. In her spare time, she can be found in Queens, making hand-built pots at a ceramics studio. She can be reached on Instagram at @annielyallcreates or through her website, annielyallslaughter.com.

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