David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of drawings by American artist Robert Ryman at the gallery’s London location. Organised in collaboration with the artist’s family, this exhibition will include works from the years 1961–2000, complementing the major presentation of Ryman’s paintings from the early 1960s on view at the gallery’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York, curated by Dieter Schwarz.
Featuring works made on a wide range of unorthodox supports, the exhibition underscores Ryman’s expansive approach to drawing. Much like his analytical yet intuitive exploration of the medium of painting, Ryman’s understanding of drawing reflects a singular investigation and deconstruction of the practice’s formal and material qualities. As Schwarz writes: “Drawings by Robert Ryman are not necessarily works on paper. They can also be executed on canvas, anodized aluminium, polyester cloth, Plexiglas, or Mylar, and for those in fact done on paper, that can include not just drawing paper—mostly tinted yellow or grey—but also coffee filter paper, manila paper, or glassine. For Ryman, ‘drawing’ is not about being confined to a single genre or fixated on a conventional picture support. In his practice, a drawing is an object insofar as it does not represent anything. Yet it is not an object in the sense of a fixed given: it is the outcome of a process during which he verifies the properties of the medium and the support of the drawing, connecting the two and creating a linear configuration that involves both components.”1
Ryman’s drawings are inextricably linked to line, which manifests as both a physical mark and a conceptual form that exists chiefly in relation to the other elements of a given composition—as a border zone between two painted passages, for example, or a partition for a matrix of gridded squares. Many of the works on view incorporate the grid—a recurring motif that the artist once referred to as a “perfect” form—not as a preparatory scaffold but as a grounded, anchoring presence in its own right. In a group of works from the mid-1960s, the artist uses a Chemex coffee filter as a base for the grid, using the circular paper filter’s rough surface to create textural lines of various lengths that investigate contrasts of shape and material. These works, like all of Ryman’s drawings, are marked by a profound intentionality; the artist carefully considers medium and support in relation to one another, striving for a holistic understanding of the drawn line in a multitude of forms.
Ryman foregrounds the tensions that arise from places of delineation and intersection: at corners or edges, and between materials, surfaces, or textures. Working experimentally and iteratively, he subverts and expands the role of the line as one of the most foundational tenets of drawing. The artist often includes his own name in various guises and repetitions in his compositions, isolating and re-examining each familiar stroke through an almost scientific lens. In the five-drawing Watermark series (1968), notable for its use of paper featuring a watermark derived from Raphael’s tondo painting, the Madonna della Seggiola (1513–1514), Ryman draws various graphite squares atop the existing image, allowing these linear interventions to act as both frame and extension to the iconography at hand.
This exhibition follows Robert Ryman: The Last Paintings in 2022, the gallery’s first presentation of work by the artist since announcing representation of the Estate of Robert Ryman in spring 2021. In 2024, David Zwirner Books will also publish a major catalogue on Ryman, which will include new scholarship by Schwarz and Lucy Lippard, among others.
For more information, visit David Zwirner