11
11
Robert Ryman
UNTITLED
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
15,000,00020,000,000
LOT SOLD. 15,005,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
11
Robert Ryman
UNTITLED
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
15,000,00020,000,000
LOT SOLD. 15,005,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York

Robert Ryman
B. 1930
UNTITLED
signed and dated 61; signed four times and dated 61 three times on the overturned left edge
oil on canvas
48 3/4 x 48 3/4 in. 123.7 x 123.7 cm.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being organized by David Gray under number 61.024.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

John Weber Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Italy
Sotheby's, London, April 3, 1974, Lot 44
Lewis Kaplan, London (acquired from the above)
Nicole Leonardi (acquired from the above in 1978)
Sotheby's, London, July 3, 1980, Lot 564 
The Mayor Gallery, Ltd., London (acquired from the above)
Michael and Elizabeth Rea, New York 
Sotheby's, New York, November 10, 1988, Lot 56
Acquired by the present owner from the above

Exhibited

New York, John Weber Gallery, Robert Ryman: Early Paintings, April 1972
Washington, D.C., McIntosh/Drysdale Gallery, The Michael Rea Collection of American Art, 1960-1980, September - October 1980

Literature

Bruce Kurtz, "Documenta 5: A Critical Preview," Arts Magazine 46, no. 8, Summer 1972, p. 42, illustrated (in incorrect orientation)

Catalogue Note

 “There is never a question of what to paint but only how to paint. The how of painting has always been the image—the end product.” Robert Ryman cited in Exh. Cat., Zürich, Halle für internationale neue Kunst (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1980, p. 15

Provocative in its immense purity and radical candor, Robert Ryman's Untitled bristles with an unrivaled dynamism and a clear vitality that renders it a timeless explication of the very essence of beauty. Ryman dates his earliest painting to 1955, but as widely noted, the years 1958-1962 were the most significant for the painter’s artistic development. Executed in 1961, the present work is one of the earliest examples of Ryman’s painting; in a career that spans more than a half-century, works from this remarkably significant period are notoriously rare as fundamental exemplars of the practice that would come to cause a quiet revolution in the medium. Works of comparable scale and complexity from this period number extremely few, with most belonging to international museum collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Enrapturing our eyes and enriching our souls, Ryman’s Untitled is one of the most crucial works ever painted by the artist; every peak of crisp phosphorescent white that emerges from its flurry of activity ineffably and incontrovertibly confirms the artist's painterly genius.

The sureness of Ryman’s hand is astounding. Frothing in a turbulent squall of luscious impasto in brief, all-over contractions, the surface of Untitled erupts before our eyes while maintaining a fundamental exactness and precision. The warm luminous white strokes are layered above underlying greens, pinks, and yellows, appearing simultaneously calm and agitated—as if frozen mid-motion in a precise choreography of staccato brush movements. Breathtakingly stirring in its vital exuberance of directional vigor, while configured in a meticulous cross-hatched pattern governed by self-containment, Untitled retains the vitality of experimentation but is rooted firmly in the thoughtful exactitude that is so resolutely Ryman. The vehement motion of Ryman’s brushstrokes impel a substantial spontaneity, however restrained by the given format of the square canvas. While the surface of Untitled proposes a similar additive gestural syntax to the oil-encrusted abstraction of de Kooning, Pollock, and other of Ryman’s Abstract Expressionist influences, Ryman’s work completely eschews the notion of action painting. As explained by Robert Storr of works from this formative period, “Ryman’s are the product of the fingers and hand, not the arm. Gesture, for him, served paint rather than the painter; painting was a question of application rather than of ‘action.’ Contrary, then to Harold Rosenberg’s view of abstraction as an exercise in the rhetoric of self-affirmation, Ryman understood it even at that formative state as a problem of material syntax. What paint had to say was its own name, and it said it best in measured tones.” (Robert Storr, Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1993, p. 15) In its expansive surface, the size of the present work provided Ryman generous room to explore the whims of his brush and to compose the reaction of his variously toned paints as they intermingled. Like an open set of parentheses bounding a vertiginously poetic set of verse, the nature of Ryman’s canvas is as important to the artist as the pigment that builds its voluminous picture plane. 

Ryman’s assertion that the content of painting came from the paint itself and not the pictorial outcome revolutionized the characteristically modernist understanding of painting for painting’s sake. Following the fertile period of artistic development in New York after the second World War, the predominant mode of painting that emerged was one that broke entirely with European traditions—gigantically scaled, gesturally uninhibited, and chromatically varied, this method of expressionism was one which brought the optical properties of color to the fore. Ryman broke free of this influence, instead finding in the enclosed square format an ideal retreat from concerns of proportionality, and locating in the color white the physical properties that enabled him the most freedom to experiment within this perfect formal arena. The characteristics of white paint that were alluring to Ryman are innumerable: its tone, transparency, vibrancy, richness, and cohesion all provoked grand inspiration for the artist. While Ryman is compared often to Malevich or Albers in his utilization of the monochromatic square, his painterly concerns align more closely to with those of Jasper Johns—repelling associations with conceptual art, his pictures rather are embroiled in the corporeal properties of the paint instead of the theoretical capitulations of such influential modernists. Ryman’s paintings do not stand in service to an idea—they stand in service to the surface.

After moving to New York City to be a jazz musician in 1952, Ryman took a job as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art. He exposed himself equally to all of the various styles that surrounded him, and this concentrated absorption of artistic influence ignited an experimental drive, leading him to purchase a set of brushes, some oil paint, and canvas boards. As he remembers, “I was just seeing how the paint worked, and how the brushes worked. I was just using the paint, putting it on canvas board, putting it on thinly with turpentine and thicker to see what that was like, and trying to make something happen without any specific idea what I was painting.” (the artist cited in Ibid., p. 12) This initial investigation into the nature of the painterly medium evolved into a pioneering exploration of the very limits of painting as a genre, and came to define the style of one of the most celebrated painters of the post-war era. Untitled of 1961 is a spectacular early example of Ryman’s inimitable technique. In every moment that we are taken aback by the painting’s heart-stopping splendor, we yearn for more time to be immersed in the infinite circuit of the picture; in every stroke resides the kernel of groundbreaking innovation.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
New York