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b. 1930, USA

Robert Ryman Biography

For over five decades, the painter Robert Ryman has dedicated himself to the study of white. Using a wide range of surfaces including fibreglass, metal and canvas, and a range of fastenings and layering techniques, Ryman uses this colour to make visible the materiality of paint and light. 

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In 1953, Ryman moved to New York with the initial aim of becoming a jazz musician. To support himself, he took up a job as a security guard for The Museum of Modern Art. There he was influenced by the art that he encountered daily—works by masters such as Matisse and Cézanne. He was also influenced by the time spent around his co-workers—the soon-to-be art legends Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin

For ten years after his arrival in New York, Ryman doggedly experimented with his chosen colour. His approach to painting mirrored his previous experience in jazz; the improvisations based on chords and scales in music became riffs based on light and surface in painting. It was a long time before his paintings would gain traction in the New York art scene, momentum that perhaps was slowed by the dominance at the time of Abstract Expressionism—a movement to which Ryman’s work was diametrically opposed. It was only in 1967 that he had his first solo exhibition. In 1969, he was included in Harald Szeemann's historic exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, and from there his career began to soar. Ryman is now considered one of the most significant founding fathers of both Minimalism and monochrome painting in the United States.  

Ryman does not use white as a colour, but instead as a conduit to making things visible. Rather than using the medium of paint to escape into illusion, Ryman’s paintings are a means of focusing on the present. Emphasising a rejection of representational painting, he often paints on squares—a neutral space alluding neither to landscape nor to portrait. 

Ryman also, however, rejects the category of abstraction. His paintings do not aim to abstract or reduce reality, but reveal the complexities of light in the spaces they inhabit. A work can be observed by the same viewer an infinite number of times and something previously unnoticed will be found upon each view. They are paintings that reward those who take time and pay attention. 

During his retrospective at Dia:Chelsea in New York (9 December 2015–29 July 2016), director Jessica Morgan said of his work, ‘With Ryman, you find yourself walking very close to the wall’. In the rooms in which the paintings are situated, nuances of light influence the subtle ebb and flow of colour and shadow in each brush stroke, leading to a new revelation every moment.  

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2017

Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, Artists for New York, Hauser & Wirth, 22nd Street, New York (1–22 October 2020). Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Thomas Barratt. 

Robert Ryman Featured Artworks

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Untitled by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled, c. 1964Oil on unstretched sized linen canvas glued to plywood mount
14 x 14.6 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Untitled [4] by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled [4], 1975Aquatint printed from two plates (ink: Titanium White)
35 11/16 x 35 7/16 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled [2] by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled [2], 1975Aquatint (ink: 50% Titanium White and 50% White Lead)
35 1/2 x 35 1/8 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled, from 10 From the Bowery 1969-1971 by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled, from 10 From the Bowery 1969-1971, 1969Screenprint
25 3/4 x 25 3/4 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled, 1993-1994Inked aquatint on Twinrocker Buff paper
13 1/2 x 16 5/8 inches
Krakow Witkin Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled, c. 1963Oil on stretched sized linen canvas, 5 parts
62.5 x 62.5 x 1.3 cm
Hauser & Wirth Contact Gallery
Untitled by Robert Ryman contemporary artwork
Robert RymanUntitled, 1962-1963Oil paint on stretched sized linen canvas
60.01 x 60.01 cm
Xavier Hufkens Contact Gallery

Robert Ryman Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Artists for New York at Hauser & Wirth, New York
Closing Soon
1–22 October 2020 Group Exhibition Artists for New York Hauser & Wirth, 22nd St, New York22nd Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Robert Ryman, ROBERT RYMAN: The First 25 Years of Prints: 1969–1994 at Krakow Witkin Gallery, Boston
Closed
22 June–26 July 2019 Robert Ryman ROBERT RYMAN: The First 25 Years of Prints: 1969–1994 Krakow Witkin Gallery, BostonBoston
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Continuing Abstraction at Gagosian, Basel
Closed
10 June–13 July 2019 Group Exhibition Continuing Abstraction Gagosian, BaselBasel

Robert Ryman Represented By

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Pace Gallery New York, London, Geneva, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing
Xavier Hufkens contemporary art gallery in 6 rue St-Georges, Brussels, Belgium Xavier Hufkens Brussels

Robert Ryman In Related Press

‘Robert Ryman gave us a lot to look at’ Related Press ‘Robert Ryman gave us a lot to look at’ 5 March 2019, Apollo

The painter Robert Ryman (1930–2019) is best known for his commitment to painting with the colour white. Those lucky enough to have met him will agree on his disarming clarity, concision, and plain-spoken charm – conveyed in his self-deprecating chuckle, his penchant for the cuisine of the southern United States, and his aversion to the term...

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The Spirit of Painting in an Altered World Related Press The Spirit of Painting in an Altered World 12 May 2018, Hyperallergic

'A faint, beautiful memory' is how curator Norman Rosenthal described A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018, the current show at Almine Rech Gallery on the Upper East Side. What he’s remembering, as spelled out in the exhibition’s title, is the seminal survey, A New Spirit in Painting, which opened, barely, at the Royal Academy of Arts...

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Ha Chong-Hyun at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris Related Press Ha Chong-Hyun at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris 23 May 2017, ArtAsiaPacific

At Almine Rech Gallery in Paris, 21 of the artist's paintings, the majority of which were created in the past four years, demonstrated Ha's ability to imbue paint with the qualities of sculpture. The artist uses a methodical, labor-intensive process to create energetic paintings on hemp cloth, recalling the sacks of aid supplies distributed to...

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Edinburgh Art Festival 2016 Related Press Edinburgh Art Festival 2016 28 July 2016, Aesthetica Magazine

The UK’s largest annual festival of visual art returns to Edinburgh on 28 July with a dynamic programme of partner exhibitions and pop-up events taking place across the Scottish capital. This year’s Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) is set to be its biggest edition to date, and will include 43 solo and group presentations curated by the...

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Robert Ryman In Video & Audio

A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection Related Video & Audio A Luta Continua. The Sylvio Perlstein Collection 8 May 2018, Hauser & Wirth

Unfolding across all three floors of Hauser & Wirth New York, 22 nd Street, A Luta Continua is the first United States presentation of the Sylvio Perlstein Collection. Curated by David Rosenberg, the exhibition presents more than 360 works by some 250 artists. Among these are Josef Albers, Carl Andre, Diane Arbus, Hans Bellmer, André...

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