Robert Ryman — Retrospective

EXHIBITION 08.12.00 – 18.02.01

The works of the American artist Robert Ryman (born in 1930) belong to classic twentieth-century painting. They are highlights in the most important art collections in the world. In contrast to his contemporaries Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, however, Ryman remained an outsider whose calm but radical works are highly topical and relevant for artists of the next generation. 

Ryman was born in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1952 he moved to New York as a jazz musician. There he discovered painting, and the richness of expression hidden particularly in nonrepresentational painting. Spurred by conceptual interest, he began to explore painting's foundation – hue, material, and execution – before reducing his use of color to white as a neutral and simultaneously highly nuanced value. From that point on in systematic series, the painter has investigated the color white – its consistency, transparency, tonal value – on the most varied surfaces, usually square in format. The artist is not interested in a symbolic meaning here; for him white is the color that "makes visible", particularly because it excludes any illusion of reality. For years and with the utmost rigor, Ryman has pursued the limitless variety of effects that unfold even despite the self-imposed restriction.   

The exhibition presents approximately 50 works from all his creative phases. They show Ryman as the Conceptual artist and minimalist, but also as the great colorist with distinct sensual and meditative qualities, whose creative power remains unbroken. A majority of the presented works, such as the still radical "Varese Wall" (1975) have rarely, or never, been on view in Europe.

Because of its pioneering formal qualities, the exhibition of Ryman's works is supplemented with international pieces by more contemporary artists. Ariane Epars, Clay Ketter, Albert Weis, and Beat Zoderer are not painters, but their artistic approaches and specific explorations of space are not unlike the American artist’s. Their works unfold in the field of tension between the objective handling of materials and an emotional, sometimes, aura-like visual effect and a mixture of rationality and intuition, which we also encounter with Ryman. 

With her murals executed in sgraffito technique, Ariane Epars (born in 1959) operates in the intermediary area between drawing, painting, relief, and handiwork. She portrays the work process as a strenuous physical and time-consuming act, and, by executing her work on a wall in Haus der Kunst, she allows for a specific space-time experience. 

The works of Clay Ketter (born in 1961) are made out of materials such as plaster and putty, whereby he includes the unstructured, temporary, and contaminated as painterly components. His unconventional furniture sculptures and shelving structures act in fragile beauty from the presence of the absent. Ketter's works may be associated with Ryman’s understanding of realism, but they also have clearly narrative, poetic, and even humorous elements. 

Albert Weis (born in 1969) fragments a room in Haus der Kunst by systematically covering it with Styrofoam. A common insulation material in construction, it alters the room's acoustics and temperature  and thus the viewer's perception as well. 

On dozens of square white wood panels, Beat Zoderer (born in 1955) constructs an accessible picture cube, from which the observer can view one of Ryman's small paintings. The individual surfaces' white on white is interrupted by the untreated raw ends of the cube's material, which, when viewed from the front, appear as shadow lines – a reference to the three-dimensionality of Ryman's paintings and an invitation to a dialogue between two related artistic positions.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, ca. 1962-64, property and copyright of the artist
Robert Ryman, Untitled, ca. 1962-64, property and copyright of the artist
Robert Ryman, Untitled, ca. 1965-66, private collection © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman, Untitled, ca. 1965-66, private collection © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1967, private collection © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1967, private collection © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000
Robert Ryman – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2000, photo Wilfried Petzi, all works © Robert Ryman / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2000

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