Occupation: Painting, Conceptual Art
Movement: Monochrome Painting, Minimalism, Conceptual Art
Robert Ryman's Famous Artworks
“Orange Painting,” 1959
“Surface Veil,” 1971
“Untitled, from BAM III,” 1993
“First Conversion,” 2003
Robert Ryman is an American conceptual artist, best known for his white canvases that are designed to interact with natural light and space. Ryman's artworks
have been exhibited at several galleries and museums worldwide.
Robert Ryman's Early Life
Born in Nashville in the summer of 1930, the artist belonged to a relatively liberal, middle-class family. While his father worked in business, his mother was an amateur pianist with an unlikely weakness for jazz. At her behest, Ryman began taking saxophone lessons in 1948 while attending the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville and then the George Peabody College for Teachers. He discovered a talent for music and decided immediately to pursue it as a career.
Robert Ryman's Creative Development
After a two-year interlude serving in the United States Army Reserve Corps during the Korean War, Ryman moved to New York in 1953 with $200 and intentions of becoming a professional jazz saxophonist. Upon arriving, he found an apartment owned by a Russian cellist and began taking piano lessons from Lennie Tristano. He spent much of his free time attending concerts at the Julliard School and jamming with other musicians in small bars and clubs around Greenwich Village. With no income and music classes to pay for, Ryman realized he would have to find jobs that would cover his expenses without hindering his study. Over the next two years, he worked as a messenger at an insurance company, a mailroom attendant in an office and a traffic manager at a porcelain import house before landing a day job as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art in 1954.
With Abstract Expressionism beginning to dominate the museums and galleries, Ryman was exposed to a fair amount of Rothko, de Kooning, and Pollock. During the five years he spent at the MoMA, he did a self-study of the top contemporary artists and sculptors of the day, increasingly curious about different forms of visual representation and the act of painting. At the time, a number of aspiring artists were working at the museum as guards or ticket-sellers, including Dan Flavin, Bill Sharp, and Sol LeWitt. Under the influence of his colleagues, Ryman began experimenting with art materials in his apartment, enrolled briefly at the American Artist’s School before abandoning the course for Victor D’Amico’s class on Experimental Painting at the Museum.
From 1959, he began working in the art division of the New York Public Library as a page supervisor but quit the following year to focus on painting. In 1961, he married art historian Lucy Lippard with whom he has a son, Ethan.
Robert Ryman's Career
Ryman was never interested in figurative art, preferring the challenge of abstraction. His first solo exhibition took place at the Gallery Paul Bianchini in 1967, where he unveiled his “Classico” series. The show was an immediate success and traveled overseas the following year to the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich.
Over the next three decades, his work was showcased at the Kunsthalle Bern as part of a key exhibition by Minimalists and other conceptual artists; at the Guggenheim Museum; the Tate Gallery; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Walker Art Center. After the dissolution of his first marriage in the mid-1960s, Ryman married fellow artist Merrill Wagner, with whom he has two sons, Cordy and Will.
Robert Ryman's Recent Activity
In 2003, he was appointed the Vice President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two years before receiving the Praemium Imperiale from the royal family of Japan. In 2009, Ridinghouse published “Robert Ryman: Critical Texts Since 1967,” which maps the development and public response to his art over half a century. Art lovers can buy Robert Ryman's artworks online
He lives in New York City and is represented by the Pace Gallery.
Robert Ryman's Exhibitions
1966 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
1967 - Paul Bianchini Gallery, New York
1977 - Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1980 - Halle für Internationale Neue Kunst, Zurich
1983 - Hallen für Neue Kunst, Schaffhausen
1987 - Whitney Biennale
1992 - Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York
1995 - Whitney Biennale
2006 - Dallas Museum of Art
2008 - Gemeentemueum, The Hague
Robert Ryman's Museums/Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Tate Gallery, London
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht
Hallen für neue Kunst, Schaffhausen
Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
“Robert Ryman: Used Paint,” by Suzanne P. Hudson
“Robert Ryman,” by Robert Storr
“Robert Ryman: Variations and Improvisations,” by Vesela Sretenovic
“Robert Ryman,” by Charles Wylie
“The Paradoxes of Robert Ryman,” by Jean Fremon