Robert Ryman - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of the artist
    Peter Blum Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Peter Blum Gallery, Robert Ryman: Works on Paper 1957 – 1964, May 20 – September 25, 2004

  • Literature

    Robert Ryman: Works on Paper 1957 – 1964, exh. cat., New York: Peter Blum Edition, 2004, p. 49 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “An image could be said to be “real” if it is not an optical reproduction, if it does not symbolize or describe so as to call up a mental picture. This “real” or “absolute” image is only confined by our limited perception”

    ROBERT RYMAN, 1979

    Robert Ryman’s career has been marked by his rigorous investigation and exploration of the simple “reality” of visual form – the medium and the support and how the two interact with one another. Ryman has steadfastly focused on how it is that the various tools available to him can be manipulated and utilized in order to fully elucidate the immediacy of the medium. Starkly opposed to figural realism, his practice is founded on a complete absence of illusion and is qualified by his lifelong study of and experimentation with painting materials.

    Robert Ryman is an artist of unerring continuity whose oeuvre has many consistent themes and principles, with none more prevalent than his use of the color white and the format of the square. The most obvious elements of Ryman’s work, they are the impartial nexus from which he begins his thorough examination of the act of painting. Ryman has from the beginning, made non-illusionist paintings and works on paper focusing on the basic material elements: the medium, the support, the application, scale, texture, the stretcher or paper edge and the wall. Untitled, with its square-within-a-square format and its various approaches to pigment, is a superb early example of Ryman’s empirical exploration of the structure of drawing and how it would later inform his works on canvas.

    The present lot is an exquisite example which clearly illustrates the playful and inventive manner with which Ryman exercises his creative and aesthetic resources. Ryman almost always, as he does here, works in a square format, which he prefers because, “A square is the most neutral surface of all. It rules out all other possible associations.” (the artist quoted in Robert Ryman: Works on Paper 1957 – 1964, New York: Peter Blum Edition, 2004, p. 66) Here he has nearly completely covered the surface of the paper in luminous white pastel and overlaid the entire sheet with a squared graph. Ryman does not choose white for symbolic reasons but for its suitability in revealing the inherent properties of the medium: color, texture, density, light and reflectivity. Since its formal adoption in the mid-1950s, Ryman afforded the color white a whole spectrum of tonal effects and degrees of gloss, allowing nuances ranging from cool to warm, transparent to impenetrable.

    Interspersed among this expanse of white are marks in pencil varying in nature from the rigid to the evanescent. Diffuse pentimenti reveal and conceal themselves beneath swathes of creamy pastel. Ryman has clearly delineated two sections in which to focus his composition and the attention of the viewer. To the lower left, he has masked out a square within the square that retains its original paper surface with no obscuring pastel. To the center, he has built a container of sorts, outlined in thick graphite, but open at the top, from which emanates a swirling conglomeration of whorls, squiggles, loops, and even another graph within the graph.

    For Ryman, the marks are simply that, self-referential elements which do no more nor less than signify their own existence. The masked square reveals the nature of the paper even as the surrounding wash of pastel confirms its own physical reality. His signature, which is frequently employed as a compositional element utilized for its aesthetic qualities, is executed twice within the composition. Tucked beneath the “container” it retains its more traditional signatory quality, but turning it on its side and running it vertically through the drawing abstracts it into a whirring complexity. By doing so, Ryman averts and invalidates any symbolic import. As he describes it, “I used the signature as a line, and I generally put it up the side or on the end…just to make it more abstract so that it would read more as a line and not so much as my name, necessarily. I used my name because that was an accepted element of all painting…if I just used line…it would have been a kind of symbol…It would have been as if I was painting something or trying to say something.” (R. Ryman quoted in R. Storr, Robert Ryman, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1993, p. 70)

    In his formative works of the 1960s such as the present lot, Ryman discovered the richness of his pared down aesthetic, spurring him to devote himself to white paint, or rather here, white pastel, for the next five decades. Ryman has relentlessly explored the lyricism of the individual mark, making painterly gesture all the more potent in the spare media of pencil, graphite and white pastel. In concentrating on the material substance of drawing and painting as both the form and subject of his work, he has created an aesthetically powerful and meditative work of art.




graphite, pastel on manila polo paper
9 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (25.3 x 25.2 cm.)
Signed and dated "Ryman 62" lower right.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $581,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM