Robert Ryman

By Decter, Joshua | Artforum International, February 1994 | Go to article overview

Robert Ryman


Decter, Joshua, Artforum International


MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

It's all in the name--the stubborn consistency of tact, vision, and method, the economy of means, the paradoxically antisystematic system of repetitions, the governing law of tautology. Moving through over thirty years of Robert Ryman's production in this show was akin to taking the same commuter train over and over again but never having the same experience twice--and never actually reaching a destination. This work thumbs its nose at the protocol of formal progression articulated in Modernist rhetoric while simultaneously beckoning the viewer to perform a thorough "formal" analysis.

The putative simplicity of Ryman's work is deceptive, and this is precisely what enthralls. Unlike Donald Judd, who eventually rejected painting in favor of sculpture's literalness, Ryman has apparently delighted in the exhaustion of abstract painting. Nothing and everything changes in this artist's oeuvre, and one is struck by the sheer obstinance of his will to drive painting into a corner, allowing it to occupy that space with a quiet, mundane grace.

There's a poetics of blankness here that defies a congruous articulation in the verbal realm. Indeed, this is the main paradox that Ryman himself confronted early on, with works such as The Paradoxical Absolute, 1958, and other paintings from that period in which he uses his name and the date as a compositional element within an essentially abstract antispace. These suggest the frustration of an attempt to reconcile the naming function of language with the zero degree of nonobjective visuality. Evidently, this dilemma can find no actual resolution, since it is only a constructed, discursive paradox that has been rehearsed over and over again. …

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