ROBERT RYMAN (B. 1930-2019)
ROBERT RYMAN (B. 1930-2019)
ROBERT RYMAN (B. 1930-2019)
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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
ROBERT RYMAN (1930-2019)

Untitled [Winsor]

Details
ROBERT RYMAN (1930-2019)
Untitled [Winsor]
signed and dated 'Ryman 66' (on the overlap)
Winsor White oil on stretched sized linen canvas
76 x 76 in. (193 x 193 cm.)
Executed in 1966.
Provenance
Fischbach Gallery, New York
Dr. and Mrs. Irving Forman, Santa Fe, 1969
Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, 1986
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
J.P. Criqui, "Signé Ryman," Artstudio, no. 16, 1990, p. 82 (illustrated).
E. Leffingwell, "Report from São Paulo. Cannibals All," Art in America, no. 5, May 1999, p. 48 (installation view illustrated).
Painting at the Edge of the World, exh. cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, 2001, pp. 102-103, fig. 6 (illustrated).
P. Tuchman and A.B. Sandback, Robert Ryman, Zurich, 2002, n.p., no. 1 (illustrated).
V. Colaizzi, Robert Ryman, London, 2017, pp. 75, 140 and 153 (illustrated).
Exhibited
São Paulo, Pavilhão Ciccillo Matarazzo, Monochrome: XXIV Bienal de São Paulo, October-December 1998, pp. 106, 205 and 231 (illustrated, dated 1965).
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Abstract Vision, February-April 2008, n.p., no. 2 (illustrated and illustrated on the cover).
Post lot text
This work will be listed as number 1966.171 in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being organized by David Gray.

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

In stark contrast to many of his New York contemporaries, Robert Ryman’s forthright adoption of a singular palette allowed him to more fully explore the subtlety of the artform than anyone before or after. Pushing against the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, the artist embraced a romantic sensibility masquerading as calculated minimal canvases. Untitled [Winsor] is a testament to the artist’s unflinching focus on process and materials in service to an intense personal investigation of painting as a whole. It was realized in 1966, the same year another work—Allied, 1966—was included in the pivotal “Systemic Painting” exhibition organized by Lawrence Alloway at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Though Ryman had been living in the city since 1950, and had made his first monochromatic paintings around 1955, it was not until the late 1960s that he began exhibiting more regularly and the staying power of his art began to be recognized. Known for his unprecedented devotion to exploring all permutations of the white square, Ryman noted, “Scientists try to find solutions, and they pick one problem out of thousands to explore and work on. It’s a similar thing, I think, that painters do. You can’t work on everything, so you take what interests you most and you explore it, and you find what solutions are possible.” (R. Ryman, quoted in B. Diamonstein, Inside New York’s Art World, New York, 1979, pp. 337-338). Never interested in purely gestural or energetic abstraction, Ryman chronicled his journey through painting as an artform from picking up small canvases and oils from the corner art supply store to major exhibitions around the world. To him, it was about the delight in discovery and experimentation rather than blustering machismo or coldly calculated systems.

Rendered on a perfectly square canvas, Untitled (Winsor) is made up of thirty-six horizontal lines tightly packed from top to bottom. The title refers to the brand of oil paint Ryman used, Winsor White, and nods to the artist’s interest in creating a more direct connection between the materials used and the viewer’s experience. Painted with a two-inch brush, each band starts neatly on the left side of the composition with maximum saturation and extends to the right where many begin to fade out as the paint leaves the brush. At various points one notices faint vertical lines that indicate a place where the artist restarted the traversal of the canvas with fresh pigment. These slight interruptions introduce a human touch in an otherwise methodical picture. Separating each strip of white, Ryman has left a miniscule amount of raw canvas showing, its dark tan peeking through the brightness of the paint. All of these nuances are infinitely more visible and noticeable because of the artist’s insistence on using white paint as the predominant tone in his oeuvre. “The use of white in my paintings came about when I realized that it doesn’t interfere,” he explained, “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” (R. Ryman, quoted in R. Storr, “Simple Gifts”, Robert Ryman, exh. cat., Tate, London, 1993, p. 16). Some of his canvases exhibit traces of other colors that are largely subsumed by his snowy ground, but in general Ryman eschewed all other hues in favor of a visual uniformity that only served to give greater focus to his process as his career grew.

Early on, Ryman set himself a set of strict boundaries for making work. The format was always square and the color was always white. However, throughout his career he changed sizes, supports, application, media, and materials often so that each work investigated a different aspect of his chosen spectrum. In the 1970s, he started to include the hanging hardware as part of his materials list, and the manner in which the work was affixed to the wall became an important point of contention rather than the typical afterthought. In his 1979 interview with Barbaralee Diamonstein, the artist explained “My paintings don’t really exist unless they’re on the wall as part of the wall, as part of the room” (R. Ryman to B. Diamonstein, Ibid., p. 334). He would often install the work extremely close to or obviously far from the wall with specific nails, hooks, and other apparatuses that all became part of the work. Sometimes the artist would even go so far as to paint directly on the wall, thereby negating the structure all together and making the painting a literal part of the room it inhabited. This interest in the way that the work interacted with the room and space itself brought Ryman’s practice close to the object-ground concerns of Minimalism, which was being theorized concurrently with his own ideas on process.

Though works like Untitled (Winsor) exhibit qualities that might categorize them in the realm of Conceptual Art or Minimalism, Ryman insisted upon placing importance in the painted surface, the hand of the artist, and the exploratory nature of his process. “The word romantic,” he mused, “can be taken several ways, I guess. I mean in the good sense, in opposition to the mathematician, you know the theorist, the person who has everything work out beforehand” (R. Ryman, “Interview, New York 1972,” in A. B. Oliva, Encyclopedia of the Word: Artist Conversations, 1968-2008, Milan, 2010, pp. 110-112, and in R. Storr, p. 39, n78). In each brushstroke and careful application of paint, one witnesses the artist’s sincere curiosity for his medium. Ryman had worked at the Museum of Modern Art from 1953 to 1960 as a guard, and it was there that he met not only the paintings of Matisse and others who would influence him greatly, but also his fellow artists Sol Lewitt and Dan Flavin with whom he shared some of the ideals that would go on to shape the second half of the twentieth-century art world.

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