Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings | David Zwirner
An untitled painting by Robert Ryman dated 2010

Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings

David Zwirner is pleased to present Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, on view at the gallery’s 69th Street location. This will be the gallery’s first exhibition of the artist’s work since announcing exclusive global representation of the Estate of Robert Ryman. The exhibition will feature a group of works Ryman created in 2010 to 2011, the last paintings that he would produce before his death in 2019. 

Ryman is widely celebrated for his tactile works using white paint, in all its many permutations, which he executed using a range of painterly media on various supports, including paper, canvas, linen, aluminum, vinyl, and newsprint. Emerging in the 1960s, Ryman eschewed self-contained representational and abstract imagery, instead giving precedence to the physical gesture of applying paint to a support. Unlike many of the artists and movements with which he is often associated, such as abstract expressionism and minimalism (labels to which he never subscribed), Ryman neither reveled in the emotive qualities of gesturalism nor sought to eradicate the painterly mark; rather, his works are novel and sensitive explorations of the visual, material, and experiential qualities of his media that exist in a dialogue with their surroundings. His lifelong commitment to working in shades of white served as a means of enhancing the specific and the mutable in the experience of his art, calling further attention to the subtleties that distinguished one composition from another, and also drawing associations to conceptual art practices.

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Image: Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 © Robert Ryman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Robert Ryman installing his solo show at Kunsthalle Basel, 1975. Photo by Christian Baur. © Photo archives Kunsthalle Basel

Robert Ryman installing his solo show at Kunsthalle Basel, 1975. Photo by Christian Baur. © Photo archives Kunsthalle Basel

“I work with color all the time. I don’t think of myself as making white paintings. I make paintings; I’m a painter.”

—Robert Ryman

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2022.

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2022.

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

The eight works in this exhibition represent the culmination of many of the artistic interests and impulses that guided Robert Ryman throughout his career. Here, expanses of densely worked white, cream, and subtly muted tones of pale green and taupe widen and narrow at the edges of the support to reveal canvases primed in vivid color.

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
22 x 22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)

While Ryman always sought novelty in his practice, the colors revealed beneath the textured whites in these compositions hark back to color elements in some of his earliest, most significant paintings from the 1950s and early 1960s. 

The burnt orange ground seen in several of these canvases directly recalls the color of Untitled (Orange Painting) (1955 and 1959), which the artist recognized as his first mature work.

A painting by Robert Ryman, called Untitled (Orange Painting), dated 1955 to 1959.

Robert Ryman, Untitled (Orange Painting). 1955 and 1959. Fractional and promised gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in honor of David Rockefeller on his 100th birthday. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

Robert Ryman, Untitled (Orange Painting). 1955 and 1959. Fractional and promised gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in honor of David Rockefeller on his 100th birthday. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

“I’ve always thought that if I ever wanted to paint a white painting it would be in the order of the way this painting was done, because this is definitely an orange painting.”

—Robert Ryman

“It was only after making his earliest near-monochrome painting Untitled (Orange Painting) (1955 and 1959) that Ryman realized the direction his work needed to go.… For with these late experiments, the artist declared himself eager to ‘pull out all the stops’ and paint white as never before.”

—Jo Applin

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2011
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)
A detail of an untitled painting by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2011 (detail)

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2011 (detail)

Reminiscent of Ryman’s brushwork in his early compositions, each heavily worked surface in these late works appears like a textured network of short, gestural daubs and strokes of paint that amass into a vibrant whole. Rather than undermine the visual qualities of the fields of white paint, the rich colors of the grounds draw out these textural and tonal nuances.

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
A detail of an untitled painting by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

A detail of an untitled painting by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

“I wanted to make a painting getting the paint across. That’s really what a painting is basically about, whether you talk about figurative painting or abstract painting.… I wanted to point out the paint and the paint surface.”

—Robert Ryman

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
A still from 4 Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg (1988) a film directed by Michael Blackwood.

A still from 4 Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg (1988), directed by Michael Blackwood

A still from 4 Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg (1988), directed by Michael Blackwood

Though similar in format and execution, these final canvases continue to demonstrate the inexhaustible and probing nature of Ryman’s approach to painting.

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
22 x 22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)
A detail of an untitled painting by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

A detail of an untitled painting by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 2010 (detail)

“The basic problem, as Ryman would repeatedly assert, was always what to do with paint. Chronology … is here undone by the shifts and permutations of Ryman’s decades-long interest in a square format, experimented on with an arsenal of white pigments and a multiplicity of support structures.”

—Suzanne Hudson

A wall of photographs in Robert Ryman's studio, New York. Photograph by Bill Jacobson Studio

A wall of photographs in Robert Ryman's studio, New York. Photograph by Bill Jacobson Studio

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)

“I use real light and I use real surface.… White could do things that other colors could not do. White has a tendency to make things visible. You can see more of the nuance.”

—Robert Ryman

A still from 4 Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg (1988) a film directed by Michael Blackwood.

A still from 4 Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg (1988), directed by Michael Blackwood

A still from 4 Artists: Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Susan Rothenberg (1988), directed by Michael Blackwood

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2011
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm)

“Each of Mr. Ryman’s paintings is a riddle of physical facts, choices and details as well as optical experiences. The more you look, the more you see, and learn about the way an artist’s mind works, … touching and considering every point no matter how small, and leaving little signs. Ryman was here.”

Roberta Smith

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2011
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm)

“We can speak of the history of painting before Ryman, and its history after Ryman. A threshold had been crossed, as was the case with the work of Picasso, Malevich, El Lissitzky, Matisse, Mondrian, Brancusi, Pollock, Duchamp, Barnett Newman, Yves Klein … or several others.”

—Daniel Buren

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2022.

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

An installation view of an exhibition titled, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2022.

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Inquire about works by Robert Ryman

An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
22 x 22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2011
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2011
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2011.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2011
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm)
An untitled oil on stretched cotton canvas artwork by Robert Ryman, dated 2010.

Robert Ryman

Untitled, 2010
Oil on stretched cotton canvas
22 x 22 inches (55.9 x 55.9 cm)

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          The Last Paintings

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