Create your first list.

A way to share and manage lots.

  • Provenance

    The Mayor Gallery, London
    Peder Bonnier, New York
    Bjorn Ressle, Sweden, 1984
    Peder Bonnier, New York
    Anders Val, Switzerland
    Eric Lowenadler, 1986
    Laurie Rubin Gallery, New York
    Nicola Jacobs Gallery, London
    Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 1988

  • Exhibited

    London, The Mayor Gallery, Robert Ryman: Recent Paintings, November 17 - December 17, 1982
    Los Angeles, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Recent Paintings, 8 Paintings by Robert Ryman, November, 22 - December 28, 1983
    New York, Max Protetch Gallery, Untitled, 1984, February, 9 - March 3, 1984
    New York, Blum Helman Gallery, White, January 7 - January 31, 1987
    New York, Laurie Rubin Gallery, Made: Remade: Unmade, November 21 - December 12, 1987

  • Catalogue Essay

    Robert Ryman’s Sign, 1982 embodies one of the most important periods within the artist’s incredibly prolific body of work. In order to understand the relevance of this seminal piece within his oeuvre, it is fundamental to acquire insight into certain aspects of his life, but primarily to concede to his very definitions and understanding of painting. A paradoxical aspect of his work is - interestingly enough - the paucity of his biographical material and the little there is, is quite ordinary. Yet perhaps it is this unusual aspect of his life that contributes to the sublime nature of his body of work. Thus, the most significant aspect of his personal life is his self-taught, unconventional education which consisted of acute, in-depth observation, inquiry into and analysis of works of art that he carried out while working as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for over six years; a couple of drawing courses where he learned how to draw from plaster casts; and a brief adult course at MoMA. This unorthodox education led him to experiment and understand painting to such a degree that - despite his minimal education and rebellion against the current artistic trends of his time - he was able to create a truly unique body of work that made unparalleled contributions to the modernist and contemporary art canon.

    The exhaustive, amateur observation of works of art at the museum led him to a unique understanding of how paint actually works. To a certain extent, he also wants his audience to observe his paintings in the same exhaustive manner he observed other paintings, which is what will, according to him, offer us a unique and delightful experience. He was highly influenced by Rothko who had no representational influence and taught him that “paintings must be treated as integrated physical entities.” Furthermore, painting for Ryman was not the physical actions involved in painting a canvas but a question of application. His approach consisted of seeing how his tools and materials would behave. His first experiments, starting around 1955, were with the color green, which consisted of testing the characteristics of the pigment, the surface and the brush.

    After these initial experiments, around 1959 he started what would become his unprecedented and signature paintings of the color white. The color white per se, exemplified in paintings from this period and similar to Sign, is not what is fundamental, what Ryman is interested in is painting the paint, painting the white paint, using white paint as his medium to reflect the white paint’s light, form and texture. A good way to further understand this technique is to know that the artist views “the white painting [as] a “blank” canvas where all is potential.” Thus, Ryman’s procedure was to meticulously paint time and time again thick bold brushstrokes, then sometimes small and continual brushstrokes, but fundamentally, constantly experimenting to discover the best way to render the qualities of the white paint. In doing this, he came to the realization that the neutrality of the color allowed him to clarify certain nuances of the characteristics of this color, or as he aptly states “it makes other aspects of painting visible that would not be so clear with the use of other colors.” But more importantly, what this proved was that the color white also had different, natural, incredible, subtle shades of color and brilliance. These subtleties are astonishing, as they reflect different textures, such as gritty, silky or feathery whites, which, again, showcase the different accents and chromatic undertones. This ultimately demonstrated that the color white is not neutral after all. Another pivotal aspect in his work is that his in-depth experiments and studies of white paint allowed the medium to represent its own aesthetic, such that each of the paintings spontaneously projected different results time and time again, thus making each of the paintings he produced unique.

    It is precisely during the time when the present lot was created that Ryman began to increasingly experiment with unconventional materials, to again, pursue different hues, movement, texture and light within the non-neutral white paint. One can clearly see the results of Ryman’s experimentation with depicting the white painting in Signs. The confident brushstrokes depicting the palpable yet velvety texture are evident. One can see how Ryman manually and laboriously painted time and time again the same white paint to create the luscious texture that the color white exudes on this graceful work. The texture allows us to see the different tonalities that in different lights can sometimes appear more glossy and with a pink undertone; yet seen at a different angle, with different light, the texture looks ridged and with grayish undertones. Additionally, the artist started incorporating fasteners, where these fasteners, as Ryman aptly states, “are emphatically real points of contact between painting figure and environmental ground”. These fasteners are also a bridge to the wall and back, and serve as spatial punctuation marks.

    In the same way that Ryman explores white and renders it differently in every painting, the fasteners are also going to vary from work to work in their height (physical prominence), consequently, in their compositional influence. This work further belongs to a larger group of paintings from the same period, when Ryman increased the size of his fiberglass support by attaching a number of panels together, adding an additional element of construction, where the joins between the panels become a compositional element. He would usually use aluminum because it was lighter and because he considered it a “nicer” metal. To achieve this effect he would make technical drawings to figure out a size and scale for each of the works that contained these fasteners. In the case of Sign, 1982 Ryman used Enamelac on the fiberglass and the fasteners were aluminum, alluding again to his continual experimentation of how to render the same theme, typically with a myriad of materials, although for this series he limited himself to Enamelac, oil and acrylic.

    Ultimately, through this stunning rendering of white in Sign, 1982, Ryman is not only presenting us with yet another unique exploration of paint, he is also proving that through his approach there are myriad possibilities open to viewing and rendering painting; and, that his work distinguishes itself for being anything but unreproducible.



oil paint, Enamelac on stretched cotton with 2 aluminum brackets and 4 six-sided bolts
34 1/2 x 32 x 3 1/2 in. (87.6 x 81.3 x 8.9 cm)
Signed, titled and dated "RYMAN82 'SIGN'" along the overlap. This work will be listed as catalogue number 82.436 in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being organized by David Gray.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm