In 1948, six years before her death at the age of sixty-five, the poet Anne Ryan discovered the collages of Kurt Schwitters and likened the artistic technique to a visual sonnet. One can see why; both modes often scrape together disparate materials—haptic or not—to evoke a highly compressed self-expression. Ryan soon became an ardent collagist, creating hundreds of works. Unlike Matisse, who approached the same medium in his own final years, Ryan kept her compositions small. Confected from textiles as well as scavenged objects such as twine, paper, mesh, and feathers, the twenty abstract assemblages displayed here are multitudinous, by turns amoebic and explosive, vibrant and subdued.
Untitled (No. 435), 1952, fashions a crude kaleidoscope out of pastel blues, greens, tans, pinks, and periwinkles. A couple of pasted papers appear to be singed. At its top, a piece of gilded foil, like candy-wrapper shrapnel, glints.
The show’s centerpiece and largest collage, Untitled (No. 618), circa 1948–54, is gauzed entirely with skin-shaded patches. Pale hues of sand and marmoreal bisque plunge softly into deeper tones of ecru and beige, where dried glue puckers beneath the surface into tiny alpine textures. In other works, fibrous honeycombs stretch across mundane and bizarre decoupage. A tender crescent moon makes an appearance. Embracing quieter colors and quotidian materials, the collages’ presence might feel humble—the artist even signed them in pencil—yet their aura lingers, like some half-remembered dream. Ryan’s late move to collage, itself a biographical volta, shunted her legacy firmly into the context of Abstract Expressionism, where she’s been relatively overlooked. Yet to say Ryan did not devote those last years to poetry begins to feel, after seeing this show, somehow mistaken.