The Christopher Wool Retrospective, Worth Exploring with Kids


Installation view of Christopher Wool at the Guggenheim Museum. Photo: Kristopher McKay

Installation view of Christopher Wool at the Guggenheim Museum. Photo: Kristopher McKay

One of our least frequented museums is definitely the Guggenheim. Although the massive Frank Lloyd Wright spiral rotunda invites mania in adults and children who want to inexplicably run the length of the ramp, it is prohibitively expensive at $22 a ticket. But occasionally there is a show that is just too good to miss, and just too perfectly housed in such a breathtaking space. This year’s show is the retrospective of Christopher Wool which is only on view until January 22nd, but is well worth the energy and the money.

During the holidays, we made a family affair out of the day. My husband, his father, and our preschool age son all fought the torrential rain and the impenetrable wall of tourists to push our ways inside. Don’t forget to pick up the great activity packs for kids at an information desk. We brought the stroller to hold our coats (and avoid standing in yet another long line) and we took the elevator to the top and worked our way backwards to avoid the masses. Because the Guggenheim is a bona fide tourist attraction, it was filled with families and many small children and babies. There’s no need to worry about noise control as the space has phenomenal acoustics which all but drowned out the jet-lagged crying babies in papooses.  

Christopher Wool, a New York-based artist, was heavily inspired by the 1970s punk and no-wave scenes. His work is bleak and often monochromatic, but oddly emotionally resounding to viewers. As a retrospective (and a teaching aid for kids) we can see the development of his finely tuned vision as well as his use of art tools. In the 80s he discovered a patterned paint roller that NYC landlords would cheaply use to make walls look like they’d been wallpapered. These florals and patterns eventually get enlarged by the 90s to become huge silkscreened paintings which are layered so heavily that they become black pits of color. Additionally, he works with giant text paintings that say things like “Sell the House, Sell the Car, Sell the Kids.” Eventually, Wool discovers the spray gun which transforms his work into what looks more like graffiti vandalism. And finally, we see his latest era where, using rags and turpentine, he has erased and whitewashed his previous style of paintings into ghost-like, beautiful layers of grey. After the painting is wiped away, what is left? As Roberta Smith in The New York Times put it, “These works make viewers ask, in effect: ‘Are you kidding me? That’s a painting?’ ”

This show answers that question in the same way my son does when I ask if he really is trying to paint on the table with peanut butter and his pomegranate seeds: “Sure. Why not?” It’s a noble question to explore with your kids.

Anytime I find myself on “Museum Mile”, there is only one place that we like to eat: Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Museum. Located on the ground floor of the museum, this ornate Vienna cafe is thrilling in it’s over-the-top décor and larger than life pastries and desserts. Although not exactly Chuck-E-Cheese, (it is filled with the ladies-who-lunch crowd), the calming environment and menu of sugary strudel has always been a treat for our family. A kaffee ($6) and apfelstrudel ($9) is just the thing to round out a spectacular day of looking at art. Note: The lower key, downstairs cafe serves the same menu and often has no wait.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue between 88th and 89th St. Hours: Sun-Wed, Fri: 10am-5:45pm; Sat: 10am-7:45pm; Closed Thursday. Adults: $22; Children under 12: free. Christopher Wool through January 22nd.

Cafe Sabarsky (ground floor of Neue Museum), 1048 Fifth Avenue near 86th Street. Hours: Mon-Wed: 9am-6pm; Thurs- Sun: 9am-9pm; Closed Tuesday.

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