Lot 46
  • 46

ROBERT RYMAN | Series #30 (White)

600,000 - 800,000 USD
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  • Robert Ryman
  • Series #30 (White)
  • signed, titled, and dated 04 on the overlap
  • oil and gesso on stretched cotton canvas
  • 12 by 12 in. 30.5 by 30.5 cm.


PaceWildenstein, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in January 2005


New York, PaceWildenstein, Robert Ryman, November 2004 - January 2005 

Catalogue Note

Provocative in its immediacy, purity, and radical candor, Robert Ryman's Series #30 (White) bristles with an unrivaled vigor and a clear painterly ingenuity that renders it a timeless explication of the very essence of its creator’s distinctive vernacular. An exquisite paradigm of Ryman’s late style, the present work belongs to the artist’s stunning series of thirty-three paintings, executed between 2003 and 2005, which the artist deemed his “first ‘white paintings.’” (Exh. Cat., New York, Dia:Chelsea, Robert Ryman, 2017, p. 311) The coda of a six-decade-long career in painting, Series #30 (White) represents a triumphant return to the explicit monochromatic impulse of Ryman’s very first “professional” work: Untitled (Orange Painting), from 1955. Testifying to its superb caliber, the present work was selected for inclusion in the 2004–2005 Robert Ryman exhibition at PaceWildenstein and has been held in Marc Jacobs’s esteemed collection for nearly 15 years. Series #30 (White), a truly captivating exemplar of Ryman’s revolutionary practice, typifies the strongest aspects of the artist’s lifelong dissertation on the possibilities of abstract painting within the realm of Contemporary Art. Meditating on the central tenets of his practice—exhibited to the fullest extent in the present work—Ryman explains of his signature style: “There is never a question of what to paint, but only how to paint. The how of painting has always been the image.” (The artist cited in Elayne H. Varian and Dorothy Levitt Beskind, Art in Process IV, New York, 1969, n.p.) Confronted by the puritanical elegance of Series #30 (White), the viewer’s eye is powerfully drawn to the subtle nuances in its surface. Ryman primes the canvas with a rich navy blue paint, layering on strokes of beige, cream, and ivory overtop, calling to mind images of snowy white plains or dense, foggy clouds. Exposing the right edge of the canvas, Ryman leaves bare his loose brushstrokes and his thin application of blue paint, which creates the illusion of a hovering white plane. Series #30 (White) luxuriates in its nuanced sea of pigment, offering viewers an ethereal composition with irresistible charm.

Series #30 (White) embodies Ryman’s unwavering focus on the essential behaviors of the material elements that comprise his art. Embracing and celebrating the physical characteristics of his chosen paint and support, Ryman proceeds to take these idiosyncrasies and stretch them to their absolute limits through his distinctive application. The intimacy of Series #30 (White)’s surface attunes viewers’ attention to “those tantalizingly imperceptible nuances [that] are the vital substance” of the present work. (Robert Storr, Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1993, p. 9) Viewers can almost feel the palpable texture of the painting’s thick canvas; its tantalizing unevenness—its ridges and bumps—mesmerizes viewers, inviting them to bask in the glory of its intimate proportions. The symmetrical nature of the square, Ryman’s signature format, allows for maximum neutrality, forestalling any compositional intervention or pictorial order; as summarized by Ryman himself: “If you have an equal-sided space and you’re going to put paint on it…then [the square] seems like the most perfect space. I don’t have to get involved with spatial composition, as with rectangles or circles.” (The artist interviewed by Phyllis Tuchman in Artforum, May 1971, pp. 44-65) By situating the entirety of his practice within these unshakeable parameters, Ryman decisively heightens the viewer’s sensitivity to the slightest permutations in stroke, tone, and format. Never a question of what to paint, but rather how to paint, Ryman used his square as the definite point of origin for creating compositions that reflect the properties of light, redefine the role of the edge, and continually explore new frontiers of space.


This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being organized by David Gray under number 04.030.