When Robert Ryman (American, b.1930), born in Nashville, Tennessee, arrived in New York in 1952 to study, his first ambition was jazz rather than art. He took a job as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art and worked there for seven years; during this time he became increasingly interested in the visual arts, and began painting. His development as a painter was not so much a linear process as a concentration on one theme: the pictorial complexity created through a reduced, extremely restricted visual vocabulary. By manipulating scale and texture in his work, Ryman creates variations on the square format and the color white.

His paintings evoke an awareness of the act of painting, namely by drawing attention to brushstrokes, surfaces, and materials, as well as to the edges of the image and the relationship between the painting and the wall it hangs upon. Ryman’s art has often been described as Minimalist or Conceptual, while he prefers to use the term realistic, aiming not to create illusions with paint but to investigate the concrete presentation of painterly materials. Ryman has experimented with painting on canvas, linen, and steel, as well as with different painting materials, techniques, and with printmaking.

It was not until the late 1960s that he began to exhibit regularly; he had his first solo show at Paul Bianchini's gallery in 1967, at the age of 36. His first solo museum exhibition was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1971. He has held subsequent exhibitions at documenta 6 and 7 in Kassel, Germany, and at the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 1983, a permanent exhibition of Ryman’s work was installed at the Hallen für neue Kunst in Switzerland, and an extensive solo exhibition was held for him the year he turned 70, at the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Ryman currently lives and works in New York.

Timeline

1930
Born in Nashville, TN
Lives in New York

Exhibitions

2008–2009
Minimal is More. Sammlung Lafrenz, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Netherlands
2007
Robert Ryman at the Venice Biennale, The Venice Biennale
2006
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland
2006
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas
1983
Hallen für neue Kunst, Schaffhausen
1980
InK, Halle für Internationale neue Kunst, Zurich
1977
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1967
Paul Bianchini Gallery, New York (solo)
1966
Systemic Painting, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York