Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building, second floor west gallery
Robert Ryman (born 1930) is widely considered the foremost Minimalist painter in a movement associated more with objects than with paintings. Minimalism implies the modernist goal of distilling art to its formal essence by eliminating illusionistic pictorial space. While Minimalism is often associated with the machine made—especially in the sculpture of Donald Judd or Richard Serra—Ryman’s work is distinguished by the importance he places in unique surfaces brought about through the painter’s touch. He uses texture, mark making and viscosity as essential elements in a highly-refined examination of the optical and material properties of painting.
Since the 1960s, Ryman has explored the myriad possibilities of the color white by varying the scale, type of paint, surface texture, support, and installation of the work. Ryman has always insisted on the importance of the relationship of the painting to the wall, by either attaching it very closely using unusual anchoring devices, like metal brackets, or in the case of PAFA’s permanent installation, Philadelphia Prototype, 2002, using paint itself as a method of attachment.
Philadelphia Prototype is a remarkable achievement in Ryman’s career. It consists of ten buff-colored vinyl sheets attached to the wall with white acrylic paint. In the execution of the work, the panels are attached to the wall with multiple pieces of adhesive tape, placed perpendicular to the four edges of each panel. Each panel is then painted white, the brush strokes exceeding the edges by roughly one inch all around, creating a halo or border of pigment on the wall. Finally, the tape is removed, revealing unpainted tabs around the edges and unpainted vertical stripes across the surface of the vinyl. Ultimately, the panels are held to the wall by the adhesive properties of the paint alone. Reducing painting to pure surface—dispensing with a painting’s “objectness”—has been an ongoing goal for Ryman. With Philadelphia Prototype, he achieves this on a seamlessly integrated architectural scale.
Julien Robson, Curator of Contemporary Art
Click here to learn more about Robert Ryman.
PAFA's special exhibitions in 2012-13 are supported by generous contributions from Max N. Berry, Esq., Mr. and Mrs. James C. Biddle, Donald and Linda Caldwell, Jonathan L. Cohen, and Lori Levine Ordover and Janusz Ordover.