Robert Ryman - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Private collection, Paris

  • Catalogue Essay

    Robert Ryman’s paintings present a remarkable symbiosis of modern and contemporary ideals within the current state of the discipline. The epitome of a specialty within a specialty, Ryman transcends the cul-de-sac ideologically inhabited by many mature contemporary abstractionists; his work generates comment from everyone. Its universality is not beseeching, however, and the work could never be said to approach anything resembling pandering. As the present lot aptly illustrates, whether or not we find ourselves endeared to Ryman’s work, we cannot help but feel provoked. It is this facility, along with a tendency to promote thoughtful interaction among everyone who comes into contact with his work, that best highlights the enduring universality of the artist’s efforts—this is work that matters, unquestionably contributing to the fuel as well as the integral structure of the engine that drives art and artistic exploration forward in our own time.

    In his blatant, promiscuous love affair with materials, Ryman aligns himself with the past; the present lot exudes care, and retains an affection for touch—embracing the potential for brutally handsome physicality—in a medium that is still found most fully realized, in the eyes of many critics, in the ever-more distant work of the abstract expressionists. His means recall the finest products of intellectual painting, simultaneously harkening in their immediacy to the most transcendent works of de Kooning and Klein. The artist’s work is gestural, but with that motion making its appearance eminently refined in a cloak of sheer elegance, from which the influence of Rauschenberg’s early work cannot be dislocated. It is his choice of palate, then, which slingshots Ryman’s work suddenly from its deep roots in twentieth century painting to the medium’s absolute cutting edge; by continuing to expand the known universe of painting with reports of the capacity of the absence of color to variously delineate a rectangle, the artist has become a research scientist probing the field of white. The study is honestly not of value or tone, and neither is it a vehicle for illustrating contrast, as might potentially be considered the case in the present lot.

    “I don’t think of myself as making white paintings. I make paintings, I’m a painter. White paint is my medium,” (Robert Ryman quoted in R. Storr, Robert Ryman, 1993, p. 17). We are given to witness in the artist’s work as a whole the exploration of the potential—an attempt to illustrate the entire capacity for expression—inherent within a visible mode of creation. Whiteness becomes both subject and object. “There is never a question of what to paint,” Ryman says, “but only how to paint. The how of painting has always been the image,” (ibid, p.18). Sleek and haute—or impervious and detached—according to one’s taste: the emotion and control simultaneously inherent in the present lot, in combination with the rigor of the artist’s purpose, speak in any number of voices a remarkably universal language.


Series #33 (White)

Oil on canvas.
17 x 17 in. (43.2 x 43.2 cm).
Signed, titled and dated “Ryman 04 ‘Series #33 (White)’” on the reverse.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $480,000

Contemporary Art Part I

17 May 2007
7pm New York