Robert Ryman - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Video

    Robert Ryman, 'Untitled', Lot 10

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Peter Blum, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002

  • Exhibited

    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Robert Ryman, March 3 - April 30, 1972, no. 9, n.p.
    New York, Peter Blum, Ian Wilson, Robert Ryman, April 5 - June 2, 2001

  • Literature

    Eleanor Heartney, Art & Today, London, 2008, p. 77 (illustrated, p. 75)
    Suzanne Hudson, Robert Ryman: Used Paint, Cambridge, 2009, pp. 71, 77 (illustrated, p. 75)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Coalescing Conceptualism, Minimalism, monochromatic painting, and his own distinctive approach to abstraction, Robert Ryman’s elegant yet evocative white-on-white paintings have evaded any single art-historical classification. A gridded, impasto-rich expanse of lush white pigment on an intimate scale, Untitled encapsulates Ryman’s painterly adroitness that has earned him a reputation as one of the indisputable masters of postmodernist art. The romanticism and contemplative sensitivity of Ryman’s canvases from 1965 have led the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Dia Art Foundation to acquire similar works from that year, though the most comparable picture is held in The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Created a year before Ryman’s work was included in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York’s 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting alongside that of formidable American figures like Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jackson Pollock, the painting tells the story of an artist on the brink of success. In this context, Untitled reflects Ryman’s newly acquired self-assurance in the New York cultural sphere as well as foreshadows his life-long investigation of the expressive faculties of white.

    Untitled was executed the year that he defined as the beginning of his artistic maturity: though he began painting full-time in 1961, he recalled that “one day in 1965 I felt I had just finished being a student. I felt very confident. I felt I knew exactly what to do. There was no hesitation, no more doubt” (Robert Ryman, quoted in Maurice Poirier and Jane Necol, “The 60’s in Abstract: 13 Statements and an Essay”, Art in America, 1983, p. 123). This conviction was substantiated by his decision to not include any pre-1965 works in his solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in the spring of 1972.

    Though Untitled ostensibly invokes both Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting [three panel], 1951, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist Composition: White on White—which was already held at The Museum of Modern Art when he worked as a guard there—Ryman claimed that neither influenced his white paintings. Instead, Ryman was more preoccupied with the neutral shade’s ability to capture the rawness and sensitivity of the medium of paint, as the use of white allowed impasto and other painterly nuances in Untitled to become more conspicuous. In this way, the intentional simplicity of both the work’s palette and its square shape is more reminiscent of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman’s aims to reduce painting to its essence. As critic and curator Robert Storr eloquently illustrated, “How many ways, Ryman has repeated and pragmatically asked, can one take the most reductive kind of painting—the apparently one-color-one-format work—and generate from it a complete, indeed protean world” (Robert Storr, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 10).

    In the early 1960s, Pop Art had eclipsed Abstract Expressionism as the dominant avant-garde movement in the American art world and many New York critics and artists began pronouncing the “death” of painting. Ryman repeatedly recalled feeling lonesome that no one shared his approach throughout this period, during which many painters, including Donald Judd and Robert Smithson, began turning to sculpture as Minimalism began to gain traction. Indeed, the term “minimal art” was coined by Robert Wollheim in 1965, and—though it was used retroactively to identify the “minimal art content” of modernist art, including Marcel Duchamp’s readymades—it presaged the introduction of Minimalism to the broader public, the Primary Structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum, New York in 1966.

    Though the clarity of the surface of Untitled is reminiscent of the precision of Minimalist sculpture, Ryman’s belief that his paintings were not “alive” until they were activated by being installed and viewed is reflective of his simultaneous engagement with Conceptualism. However, Ryman—who became an artist during the seven years he worked at The Museum of Modern Art—did not read philosophy or graduate from art school, an anomaly in the 1960s art world that cherished the hyper-intellectualized work of Judd, Smithson, and Sol LeWitt. Thus, Ryman’s paintings are better considered according to his personal timeline than that of any particular postmodern movement. Untitled was created during a time marked by great change in the New York intellectual climate and in the same year as the inception of his self-defined artistic maturity, and is emblematic of Ryman’s predilection for reacting to new aesthetic concerns instead of dismissing some for others. “It was never a rejection,” he asserted. “Just a different approach to painting… You want to discover something else… a new way of seeing” (Robert Ryman, quoted in Nancy Grimes, “White Magic”, ARTnews 85, no. 6, 1986, p. 87).

    Though Yves-Alain Bois famously called Ryman “the last modernist painter,” Untitled is a canvas of beginnings rather than ends. Despite frequently being coupled with Ad Reinhardt, who boldly asserted that he was “making the last painting which anyone can make,” Ryman had more optimistic expectations for the future of the medium (Ad Reinhardt, quoted in Barbara Rose, Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, Berkley, 1991, p. 13). He kindly countered, “I never felt that painting was dead at all,” and “I think abstract painting is just the beginning” (Robert Ryman, quoted in Vittorio Colaizzi, “Robert Ryman, Painting as Actuality: 1953-1969,” PhD diss., Richmond, 2005, p. 301 and Nancy Grimes, “White Magic”, ARTnews 85, no. 6, 1986, p. 87). Untitled asks, in its elegant clarity: without superfluity or distractions, at which point does one have the essentials to begin painting?

A Discerning Vision Property from an Important Private Collection



signed and dated "Ryman 65" on the right turnover edge
enamel on stretched raw linen
10 1/4 x 10 1/8 in. (26 x 25.6 cm.)
Painted in 1965.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being organized by David Gray under number 1965.147.

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,580,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019