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Robert Ryman evening Lot 27
Robert Ryman (B. 1930)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Distinguished American Collection
Robert Ryman (B. 1930)


Robert Ryman (B. 1930)
signed, titled and dated 'Ryman 02 "Connect"' (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
74 x 74 in. (188 x 188 cm.)
Painted in 2002.
PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Embracing the Contemporary: The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection, June-September 2016, p. 222, 225 and 278, pl. 131 (illustrated in color).
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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work will be listed as catalogue number 02.029 in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being organized by David Gray.

Robert Ryman’s Connect exemplifies what the artist refers to as the wonder of painting. This white monochromatic canvas is among the largest in the artist’s oeuvre and was completed as he undertook his painterly investigations on an architectural scale. The richly impastoed surface, bordered by slivers of raw unprimed canvas around the margins is the physical manifestation of Ryman’s philosophical views on painting. Traditionally, artists have worked in one of two modes: representation or abstraction. However, Ryman’s works are neither representational nor abstract. They are not signs, or expressions as we have come to expect from artists; they are, in their truest sense, experiences.

This can be seen across the entire surface of this majestic canvas as Ryman creates a painterly practice that is all-encompassing. Unconstrained by the need to depict color, form or gesture, Ryman choreographs an infinite series of brushstrokes resulting in a seemingly endless expanse of painterly impasto. Comprised of a rich variety of brushstrokes ranging from long sweeping, serpentine movements of his brush to passages which are made up almost entirely of short, sharp, staccato applications of paint, Ryman constructs a surface packed with infinite variety. Despite being executed purely in monochromatic white, the surface is actually dramatically varied as the peaks of impasto cause a complex range of constantly shifting forces to track across the surface of the work. Ryman considers his work to encompass not just the surface, but every aspect of the painting and perhaps due to this holistic approach he leaves a thin sliver of unprimed and unpainted canvas along the upper and lower right corners. Unlike the nature of Agnes Martin’s graphite lines which power through the gentle undulations of her gessoed surfaces, Ryman embraces the liquescent nature of the paint and allows it to celebrate its own physical properties, resulting in the highly dynamic surface we can see in works such as Connect.

Yet, Ryman’s canvases are so much more than a painted surface. The artist believes that the essence of his work extends beyond the pigment covered canvas to include the wall (and in some cases the fixings that attach the canvas to the wall), the gallery space and even the shadow caused by the work as it hangs on the wall. and should all be considered part of the work. “…the properties of the paint and the support, and the interaction with exhibition space together constitute Ryman’s work and exhaust its meaning”
(A. Vallye, in C. Basualdo and A. Mecugni, {ed.), Embracing the Contemporary: The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016, p. 222). Indeed, the title of this particular work—Connect—could be read as the artist’s way of reminding us of the universal nature of his art.

Reduced to the simple white palette, Ryman’s painting is a master class in economy. Yet, the interaction of surface properties—the gentle impasto that produces peaks and troughs of paint—with the refracted light magnifies a myriad of surface incidents. Rebounding off or skidding over the surface, Ryman’s ‘white’ color is alternatively bright white, cool or warm. Described by Ryman as his ‘medium’, he observes, “I’m not really interested in white as a color, although I have at times used different whites for different purposes. Sometimes I used warm white because I wanted to have a warm absorbing light. At other times I’ve used colder white...it has to do with light—softness, hardness, reflection and movement—all these things” (R. Ryman, quoted in R. Storr, ‘Simple Gifts’, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Tate, London, 1993, p. 17). Ryman’s use of white does not define his paintings and it is by no means an expression of rigidity. Rather, it represents a means of revealing the painting as a whole, exposing the intense surface activity and experimental painterly process. White serves the same purpose as the square canvas: stripped of all connotations, it bears the least associations. Inherently composed, for Ryman white is a symbol of purity, of austerity, and most significantly, of autonomy. “The use of white in my paintings came about when I realized that it doesn’t interfere. It’s a neutral colour that allows for a clarification of nuances in painting. It makes other aspects of painting visible that would not be so clear with the use of other colours” (Ibid., p. 16).

Throughout his career, Ryman’s monochromatic canvases have been linked to a number of the major artistic movements of the 20th century, primarily Minimalism and Conceptual Art, but also to some degree Abstract Expressionism. Yet, Ryman rejected all of these labels, instead preferring to describe his work as ‘Realist.’ According to the artist his work is an alternative to the dominant doctrines of figuration and abstraction. He believes that the traditional disciplines of abstraction and figuration have constrained painting to the notion of the “picture”–but that his realism is an “outward aesthetic” that exposes painting to the world as one of its concrete and literal elements. He has explained what he means by the term: “I call it realism because the aesthetic is real. Realism has a different approach than representation and abstraction. With realism, there is no picture. The aesthetic is an outward aesthetic instead of an inward aesthetic, and since there is no picture, there is no story. And there is no myth. And, there is no illusion, above all. So lines are real, and the space is real, the surface is real and there is an interaction between the painting and the wall plane, unlike with abstraction and representation . . . I think it is more of a pure experience” (R. Ryman, “On Painting,” in C. Sauer and U. Raussmller, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Espace d’Art Contemporain, Paris, 1991, pp. 59-65).

Painted in 2002, Connect comes from the distinguished collection of Keith L. and Katherine Sachs. Very much a collecting partnership for more than forty years, the Sachs assembled a superlative collection with great dedication, beginning with works from the 1950s to the present. In 2014 they made a promised donation of 97 works from their collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a gift which represents a transformational moment for both the institution and its collection. This gift built on an earlier donation of 15 works resulting in a significant contribution to the museum’s collection of Post-War & Contemporary Art. The works are exceptional for the concentration of works by American masters such as Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly and Brice Marden, a strong focus on major British and German artists (including Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke), and important works of outdoor sculpture including Charles Ray’s Boy with Frog. The couple have been closely associated with the Museum for decades: Keith Sachs has been a Trustee since 1988 and Katherine was an adjunct curator.

The sale of Robert Ryman’s Connect has enabled the couple to make another transformative gift; the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, Recently announced, this program is the culmination of more than a decade of support by Keith and Katherine Sachs for the arts at Penn. These major gifts have transformed the landscape of arts education on campus, including the Sachs Guest Curator Program at the Institute of Contemporary Art; the Sachs Professorship in Contemporary Art in the Department of History of Art; the Fine Arts Program Fund and Visiting Professorship in the Department of Fine Arts in the School of Design. The Sachs’ vision has been to expand arts programs across the university by integrating the ICA, the Department of Fine Arts, and the Department of History of Art and bringing outstanding artists to teach on campus.

Perhaps more than any other artist, Ryman’s work was intended to be what he termed a “pure experience” (R. Ryman, op. cit.). His paintings exhaust verbal approximation and have been likened to musical symphonies that can only be fully appreciated in its entirety by being experienced in person. The beauty and elegance of Connect resides in its pure expression of the idea of painting, but not as a process—that would be too rigid, turning this magnificent work into a mere document of its making. Instead, to become lost in the maze of winding curves and mellifluous impasto, to follow the line of bristles into the blinding brilliance of vertiginous white, and then to be suddenly confronted by the smoothly gessoed is to be taken on an exuberant, intoxicating optical and haptic ride.

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