January 16, 2009

Ryman rejects his tidy inheritance

Cordy Ryman’s new abstract paintings, sculptures and installations at DCKT continue his playful exploration of paint, color, two-by-fours and wooden constructions. According to the gallery’s press release, Ryman is “manipulating and reconstituting an inherited visual language, and defining himself in relation to it.” Well, I doubt Cordy thinks that much about his inheritance (Merrill Wagner and Robert Ryman are his parents) as he works; his spontaneous process and inexhaustible materiality manage to infuse his parents' elegant Minimalism with a giddy, slapdash nonchalance.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation Ryman had with Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui last year.

Phong Bui (Rail): Can you recall any specific event, whether it was seeing a particular work of art, having a conversation with some artists, or simply accepting the strong urge, which drove you to come to terms with the prospect of being an artist?

Ryman: There was no particular episode that I can pinpoint that made me think, “OK. This is what I want to do.” I didn’t plan on doing what I’m doing exactly. Although before high school, I wanted to make comics so that was the first indication of some sort....Anyway, in high school, I became interested in sculpture and was making a lot of very expressive figures, mostly faces with great anxieties. At that point I really felt that art was about emotion and should be expressed emotionally. I remember talking to my dad about art while trying to figure out what he was doing, and it was frustrating because I never got a clear answer. As a teenager there was something inaccessible about his work; I never understood what the big deal was. The fact that they were critically praised made it more difficult for me to access. I really wanted to understand it and figure it out, but since I was trying so hard I couldn’t. That process left me feeling as though I was missing something that everyone else seemed to get. Because if there was one thing that I knew it was the fact that his work was totally genuine... it wasn’t a gimmick. At some point I decided to leave it alone and stop trying to figure things out which in effect enabled the real breakthrough which came a little later. But now, when people don’t get my work, I can really understand. And I can really sympathize with them.

"Cordy Ryman," DCKT Gallery, New York, NY. Through February 14.

2 comments:

oops, didn't mean to pun on "relative."
nor to be snarky. No point in arguing that Ryman's work isn't very different from his parents'. And the Rail interview was fascinating. I do wish more people would allow that work that they find difficult is, whatever else, genuine.
Interesting also to note that, given that Ryman was born in 1971,the stuff his father was doing when he was a teenager was quite "minimal" indeed, unlike the early 60s and much of the 90s.
Wagner's work similarly swings between poles, relatively speaking.
Cordy's stuff in Color Climax at Graham & Sons last summer was very cool. I'm sorry to miss this show.