PRINT Summer 1992

Absence Made Visible: Robert Ryman

By 1957, when he was in his later 20s, Robert Ryman had established a distinctive signature mode for his paintings: he limited his format primarily to the square and his palette almost exclusively to white (though the natural color of the supports and, after 1976, of the supports’ fasteners provided counterpoint to the white, and though the whites themselves varied). This self-limitation was a kind of thing that was done in the heyday of Greenbergian theory, when Ad Reinhardt, for example, limited his palette to black, Franz Kline to black and white, and so on. But the decision remains remarkable, as does the fact that Ryman has worked within these limits for more than thirty years, evidently feeling them as expansive and infinitely renewable.

You could say there had been no change or development in his work during that time, and some critics would agree with you.1 But others see a “slow evolution”:2 the elements of the work pass through an unending series of nuanced changes and recombinations, with a variety of paints (oil, acrylic, enamel, gouache, and more) being applied through a variety of brushstrokes or styles of touch (from Johnsian allover texturing to house-painting brushes drawn once across the surface, and from one direction to another, horizontal, vertical, diagonal) onto a variety of surfaces (from paper to cardboard to fiberglass to aluminum to steel, whether mat or polished) in a variety of sizes (from 7 inches square to 24 by 8 feet) hung by a variety of conspicuous devices (from bolts to elaborate flanges to metal ribbons to wooden pegs and foam blocks) in a variety of relationships to the wall (directly on the wall, partly on and partly off it, close to it, a few inches from it, freestanding several feet away from it, horizontally perpendicular to it, or variously placed in relation to wall lines, door lines, windows, and so on). Ryman deals with light, too, in a variety of ways, an endless flow of flat-to-sparkling nuances, characteristically unfolding with an uncanny precision and clarity.

Ryman’s public career developed fairly slowly—his first one-person show came only in 1967, ten years after he had focused his approach. By around 1970, however, there was interest in his work in both America and Europe, and since then both critics and public have agreed on the historic weight of his oeuvre. Writers in particular have responded well to Ryman; indeed one, is struck by the high level of discourse the work has drawn out of the culture around it. But one is also struck by a contradictoriness in this discourse. Having unfolded over three decades with little if any fundamental change in its premises, Ryman’s oeuvre has encountered a number of critical climates, and its reception has been adjusted to each in turn.

The work has often been discussed as if it were unambiguously Minimal art. Some have said, for example, that it has no metaphor in it, no reference to anything outside itself, no narrative, no symbolism, no metaphysical implication—nothing but physical presence.3 This was of course a standard claim of Minimal artists, and Ryman himself tends to talk like a Minimalist: sometimes he will make a remark like “The painting is exactly what you see,”4 which would seem to say much the same as Frank Stella’s famous credo, “What you see is what you get.” Both statements can be taken to imply that conventional representation and metaphysical abstraction equally refer to matters outside the physical boundaries of the painting, and thus must be rejected through insistence on the primacy of the painting’s presence. In the 1960s such remarks involved a rejection of Abstract Expressionism’s macho spiritual bombast for a down-to-earth, and still somewhat macho, materialist austerity. They were refreshingly blunt: We’re not going to lay any trips on you, the artists seemed to be saying. Like Carl Andre’s affectation of workman’s overalls, these matter-of-fact statements suggested that at least on some level the artist did not think he was doing anything special, anything out of touch with real, or ordinary, life.

The Minimalist position is sometimes regarded as the ultimate expression of Clement Greenberg’s belief that the painter should eliminate from his or her work anything and everything that does not belong exclusively to the medium of painting. Thus narrative, being literature, is eliminated; drama and tragedy, being theater, are eliminated; representation, being photography, is eliminated; and so on. But many of the artists for whose work this theory was devised did not accept it at all. Both Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, for example, had specific interest in content: the sublime and the tragic respectively. Ironically, it was their successors in the Minimalist generation, which little interested Greenberg, who really accepted his theory and worked on its premises.

Greenberg wanted the painting to employ only nonrepresentational color and a two-dimensional surface. Though the purism of his theory was tacitly based on spiritual attitudes, he seems to have intended something more materialist by it.5 Michael Fried took the materialism of Greenberg’s theory further—introducing elements traditionally regarded as nonesthetic, such as the canvas’ support bars, for example, as part of the painterly and critical enterprises6—and the Minimalist generation drove it fully into the open. Thus for Ryman the essentials of painting finally are: a two-dimensional surface, preferably a neutral square; paint, all of one color so that composition, though still residually present, is greatly diminished; and a support structure for the surface, which is frankly acknowledged through visible hanging devices. Ryman’s use of hanging devices as compositional elements surpasses Fried in its acknowledgment of the painting as a physical reality rather than a pictorial illusion. I do not know how Greenberg feels about this extreme form of his doctrine, but it does seem a legitimate outcome of his thought.

Ryman’s work clearly has much in common with Minimalism, but he does not call himself a Minimalist. His own preference is for the word “Realism.” In an important statement, he first sets his approach off against representation and abstraction, both of which he says follow an inward aesthetic": both, that is, posit imaginary worlds separated from the real space around the picture by the frame, which always invites the viewer inward, into the work.7 Next Ryman posits a third, “Realist” type of painting (also, he says, called “Concrete,” “Absolute,” and “Non-objective” painting in the past). “The Realist” painting “uses all of the devices that are used by abstraction and representation . . . [except one]. The only element that is not used is the picture....and since there’s no picture, there’s no story. And there’s no myth. And, there is no illusion, above all.” This, then, is what the formula “The painting is exactly what you see” means: without illusion, the painting is “what you see” and nothing else. It is completely honest in its physical and material presence, which involves no tricks, puns, or hidden agendas. The painting is called “Realist” because it is simply and directly a real object. referring to nothing outside itself, stating nothing but its own identity.

Furthermore, since the painting is not a picture of anything but is a real object occupying its space as any real object does, and since, again like a real object, it has no frame to set it off from real space, “there is an interaction between the painting and the wall plane.” Accordingly, Ryman refers to his “Realism” as an “outward aesthetic,” in contrast to the “inward aesthetic” of both abstraction and representation: the real object asks the viewer not to enter into it but to experience its outward presence as a plain physical object in real space, interacting “with the wall plane, and even to a certain extent with the room itself.”

Nothing here really distinguishes Ryman’s work from Minimalism. It is interesting, though, that in constructing a tradition for “Realism” Ryman mentions not the Minimalist school but the early Modernist Piet Mondrian, who remarked that his work struggled to be “free of the tragic.”8 Ryman also singles out Rothko for “his use of the painting as an object in itself.”9 The artist himself, then, seems to identify most closely with artists outside his Minimalist peer group. And the terms of his “Realism” argument might suggest a number of other classical Modernists: critics often mention Kasimir Malevich, for example, in connection with Ryman, though most of Malevich’s works are either representational or abstractly metaphysical. Piero Manzoni may be closer to the mark, at least in his “Achromes,” 1957–63: Manzoni wrote, “What I want to do is to create a completely white surface (yes, quite colorless, neutral) that is in no way related to any artistic phenomenon or element outside the surface itself. It is not the white of a polar landscape, or of some beautiful and evocative material, or a feeling, a symbol, or anything else; it is a white surface that is nothing but a white surface. . . . Or better still, it is there and that’s all.”10 Manzoni’s emphasis on the surface—rather than on the whole support system, with stretcher bars and hanging brackets—is less relentlessly materialist than Ryman’s approach, yet still seems ideologically close. The major difference, perhaps, is that Manzoni’s materialism seems to have been rooted in European revolutionary thought—of the type that embraces both anarchism and Marxism, say—and Ryman’s seems to stand alone, without any such generalized matrix.

Critics also link Ryman’s work with the post-Minimalist artists sometimes, in the 1970s, called “analytic painters.”11 This group was made up mostly of Europeans—Alan Charlton, for example—though Americans such as Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, and Dorothea Rockburne have also been included. The products of these artists’ “program of minute attention to material, format, color, line and texture” were exhibited under titles like “Painting about Painting” and “Painting without Pictures”12 A Dutch exhibition of such work in 1975 used the title “Fundamental Painting,” which the curator encapsulated in terms very like Ryman’s own: “Format: neutral, square, or close to it. . . . Scale: human, not sublime abstract, where you lose yourself in it. Color: one color. . . . Line: the edge, or a reference to the edge. . . . Texture: . . . determined by materials. Materials: various.”13 As in Ryman’s “Realism” theory, the painter, having abandoned pictorial values, is left with only the materials to explore.

To class Ryman as an “analytic painter” seems alluring, then, but for one question: is it adequate to discuss his work strictly in terms of painting, with whatever modifier? For once his materialism is acknowledged, it tends to move his art partway out of the category of painting and into that of sculpture. Ryman himself says that he doesn’t “think of [his work] at all as sculpture,”14 but at the time when his paintings were first taking their distinctive form, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, it was a primary artistic project to break down the distinction between painting and sculpture, or, better, to shift emphasis from the former to the latter. This arose from shifts in the perception of art’s ethical priorities. In the era of high Modernism, with its hidden but overpowering metaphysical assumptions, painting’s illusionism, even or perhaps particularly when abstract, seemed to give it an advantage over sculpture in attaining ethereal realms of meaning. In the ’60s and ’70s, however, illusion came to seem a distraction from real life, reflecting an irresponsible obliviousness to the duties of embodied social beings. (This was the period of one of painting’s many so-called “deaths.”) A sculpture, on the other hand, even when representational, was a real object occupying the same space that the viewer occupied, the space of the body and of society. This seemed to give it the ethical advantage.

In defense of painting, or in deconstruction of painting, artists and critics pushed the medium toward sculpture. The process had begun even in what seemed painting’s heyday. Greenberg himself had remarked that a stretched canvas without a mark on it could be a painting, though not a very good one;15 but in fact many events have demonstrated that a stretched canvas, with or without a mark on it, can be a perfectly good sculpture. A canvas deliberately left blank would clearly seem to emphasize its own role as a three-dimensional object at the expense of its pictorial surface. (It would also, of course, allude to the entire history of painting and to painting’s present condition, but this kind of content would not have interested Greenberg, who tried to confine esthetic response to optical experience.) The treatment of the painting as, in effect, a sculpture may have been what Robert Motherwell was referring to when he said of Stella’s black canvases, “That is very interesting, but it is not painting.”16

The shift from the illusionistic toward the sculptural presence of the painting was a key feature of the end of Modernism. Elements such as Jackson Pollock’s hobbyhorse head affixed to a canvas, from 1948, and Lucio Fontana’s punctured canvases of 1949 on, may be seen as foreshadowings. Then, as early as 1957, Yves Klein mounted paintings away from the wall like free-standing sculptures, and affixed three-dimensional found objects to them. Robert Rauschenberg and Manzoni also stuck objects to the surfaces of their works, and since then many others—Luciano Fabro, Richard Jackson, and Immants Tillers, to name a few at random—have used canvases in frankly sculptural ways, stacking them, strewing them about the floor, and so on. Surely Ryman belongs as much to this group as among the “analytic painters.” His materialism is implicitly sculptural. In sculpture, material is of primary significance, whereas in painting it is usually irrelevant whether the artist has worked on, say, cotton or linen. Similarly, in sculpture any object such as a bracket or screw or peg is considered part of the work, while the means of hanging a painting are traditionally considered external necessities to be made as unobtrusive as possible. In these and other ways Ryman’s objects are strangely more like sculptures than like paintings. It’s true, of course, as Robert Storr observes, that “whatever the relative degree of physicality of the devices with which [Ryman] has experimented . . . it is paint and paint space . . . which beckons light and entraps it”17 But many other artists—Marcel Broodthaers, Bertrand Lavier, and more—have demonstrated that paint can function easily within sculpture.

Even as Ryman’s works act like paintings—even like paintings of “inward aesthetic” by attracting the viewer to nuances of difference in the picture plane, their sculptural quality can be seen again in their openness to their environment. Many have commented on the way a Ryman painting transforms the space, becoming part of a new work that includes the lines and texture of the wall, the height of the ceiling, and so on. Of course this is true of any painting or indeed any object to a degree; the point is that it is true of Ryman’s work to an extraordinary degree, to a degree, in fact, that somewhat contradicts the idea that it is painting at all. Painting, enclosed by the frame of the rectangle, sets itself off from the space it hangs in; sculpture participates in that space. Painting can include both a ground and a figure within the ground; sculpture is only a figure, making the space in which it is exhibited its ground. Ryman’s works in this way act like sculptures, figures within the ground of the ambient space.

Despite an evident intention to strip matters down to a crystalline simplicity, both Stella’s and Ryman’s “what you see” remarks open up much debate. It never has been all that clear where the act of seeing ends and the act of cognitive addition begins. On the one hand “what you see” might mean, as Minimalists are supposed to intend it to mean, a mere array of material substances and objects: wooden frame, stretched canvas, paint. But if this is all that is meant, then where is the esthetic point? Are we to understand that “what you see” is somehow not only material but also esthetic? If so, where does the esthetic enter? Is a material presence always esthetic? Is the wall as esthetic as the painting upon it? These artists, in other words, have not explained why they bothered to make the painting at all, rather than simply pointing to the wall, which is already there and is already “exactly what you see.”

It is worth considering what these statements would have meant in the pre-Minimalist mode of discourse from which they emerged. Greenberg’s doctrine of the “purely optical” had somehow allowed for concepts such as Newman’s “stretched red,” in which “what you see” is supposedly nothing less than the sublime. The “purely optical,” then, becomes a vehicle for all sorts of metaphysical content to be supplied by the viewer, who would likely know from verbal supplements, however, what the artist intended by a particular abstract field. In this context, to say that “the painting is exactly what you see” is merely to point to a blank that needs to be filled in.What the statement communicates powerfully, however, is the artist’s reluctance to fill it in himself.

The grandly spiritual art discourse of the ’50s had been rejected by the artists of the following generation as, essentially, outworn. In its place, artists like Ryman inserted a verbal blank. It is the unspecific nature of this blank that has allowed critics to place Ryman in so many different categories; and it has also allowed them to find more meanings in his work than the hardware-store-shelf element of materialism can encompass, from Donald Kuspit’s discussion of “absolute art” and the metaphysical “zero of form” to Dan Cameron’s celebration of Ryman’s white as “the color of purity and revelation.”’ Contradicting both Ryman’s own talk of “Realism” and the entire body of writing that stresses his materialism, both these authors attribute at least hints of mysticism to Ryman’s work. And in fact it is not altogether clear that the artists of Ryman’s generation completely rejected the spiritual type of discourse.

To say that the outer trappings of a way of thinking are outworn, or out of fashion, is not necessarily to feel that its inner core is irrelevant. It is significant, I think, that while the ’60s artists rejected the earlier generation’s way of talking, they kept much of its practice, such as the purist avoidance of representation and the interest in the monochrome field. And they didn’t even totally give up the talk: Rauschenberg, for example, in 1951, described his white paintings as “one white as one god,” echoing the tone of what Harold Rosenberg called the theological branch of Abstract Expressionism without any obvious irony. It was only a decade later that he spoke of these works in down-to-earth social terms—as screens meant to show the viewers’ shadows, implicating the work in the flow of everyday life. Which statement is truer of his intention in making the paintings, or of their cultural significance? Was the first description an insincere echo of the older artists then still dominant, or was the second an attempt to cover his ass after the fashion had changed?

Like questions can be raised about Ryman. In the context of similar work of the late ’50s, it is not so clearthat his work lacks drama, narrativity, and the sublime. Indeed, in and of itself the work may suggest many things, sparking a train of associations that go far beyond the raw perception. I don’t think Ryman can eliminate this aspect of his art merely by denying it. Seen in historical and cultural context, his work seems to me to involve a double bind, carrying manifest associations that are then denied by the artist who, wittingly or not, contrived them in the first place.

It is true, of course, that there is an absence of overt narration in Ryman’s painting. Still, no absence is simply an absence; absence is already a kind of narrative. Philosophers have formulated this idea in different ways. To Aristotle, absence was inherently dynamic, for always implicit in it was a potential presence. Others have held that absence is itself a positive presence, a perceptible thing.Certain Indian thinkers have spoken of a Prior Absence (the absence of something that has not yet appeared) and a Posterior Absence (the absence of something that was previously present) as metaphysically distinct entities.’ In this sense the empty surface is not merely empty; it is either waiting for something to transpire upon it, which is one narrative, or recording the disappearance of something that has already transpired, which is another. Either approach involves a set of feelings—tragic, or elated, or anticipatory, or longing. The field on which events transpire, absence palpitates with their dynamism. The clean slate also involves a narrative of its cleaning, implying reasons for doing so, purposes, counterpurposes. Even “nonpainting” like Ryman’s, for example, can be placed in the history of painting, where it tells a story of all the elements that have been removed from it—elements off the field for the moment, but still players. To shift the terms just a little: Doesn’t purity imply a narrative of purification?

Doesn’t austerity imply a drama of struggle against superfluity? Doesn’t a clean slate imply some crisis that has necessitated its cleaning?

For all his work’s look of predetermination, Ryman’s method is intuitive, in a process-oriented way that goes back to Action Painting. “When I begin,” he remarks, “I’m never quite sure what the result is going to be. . . . I don’t have a plan . . . I have . . . a certain feeling of what I want.”20 This unfolding of the piece out of impulses encountered in the making of it, much as the paintings of Kline and Pollock unfolded, is another kind of drama implicit in Ryman’s work. Perhaps this is the event for which the ground hovers in expectancy. On the other hand, this drama has already been played out; it is the ground, rather than a figure transpiring upon it.

Kuspit and Cameron seem to mean something similar when they sense a mysticism clinging around Ryman’s painting. Cameron has referred to the work’s paradoxical combination of “inviolability with expectancy”:21 an inviolability that suggests nothing can possibly transpire upon its surface except what is already there, and an expectancy that suggests a pregnant surface, a surface on which something is about to happen. This contradictory presence seems related to what Kuspit says about “absolute art” when he writes, “The point is to make it seem rich and full-bodied without undermining its numinous remoteness and bodi-lessness.”22 It is this aspect of the work, too, that creates the commonly recognized effect of giving a churchlike ambience to a room where a number of these works are shown at once.

My own belief is that the mysticism these critics have found in Ryman’s work is actually there, but in a uniquely tempered form that does not really contradict the materialism that others have found in it. An Indian tantrist familiar with the monochromatic renderings of the absolute in that tradition might understand Ryman’s paintings as representations of the pure sublime. But it is not pure sublime; it is a sublime experienced on the level of perception, and deeply informed by the materialist ethos of Minimalism. Ryman’s concern with perception is such, in fact, that perception becomes something else: it functions in the work as a concrete universal. In effect, it is presented as an absolute. The work restores the simplicity of sense perception, yet invests it at the same time with grandeur and absoluteness. The peace of raw and simple perception comes to suggest a salvational force, as in Zen or vipassana meditation practice. The artist works as an empirical investigator of sense perception, yet in a kind of redemptionist aura. Thus, insofar as there is a contradiction in the discourse between the materialist and the mystical claims, I would agree, in a modified way, with both sides.

You might say, of course, that there are no absolutes—that the white of Ryman’s paintings can never be more than a blank check to be tilled in as this or that by each viewer, a Rorschach test to draw out and record different projections. Indeed, like the work of some other artists who have continued to pursue the same type of practice as the ages change around them, Ryman’s art seems to take on different resonances of meaning in response to each new cultural atmosphere or pulse. It is open—conspicuously open, given its blankness and its unframed accessibility—to any unintended hieroglyphic that a viewer might wish to read into it.

Paradoxically, the whiteness of Ryman’s paintings, their figurelessness, only supports their associativeness. Ryman has said that white carries no symbolic or referential quality for him at all.23 His explanation of why he uses it is wonderfully down to earth: “It’s to make it clearer that I use white; it’s so that everything will be visible.” I believe that this explanation is indeed all that is needed to understand the work on its own or its maker’s terms, comporting perfectly with his “Realist” premises, in which everything down to the hanging brackets is to be honest and direct in its visibility, with no dark corners for obscure suggestions to lurk in. But white clearly has meanings beyond this intention—for example, in terms of the society around it.

On the same day on which Ryman made that remark to me about the clarity of white, the New York Post carried a brief story about the Grammy awards the night before. The singer Mariah Carey, whose father is African-American, “was sent a white stretch limo. Didn’t like it. They had to recall the thing and send a black one.”24 A question comes to mind that I remember Muhammad Ali asking: “Why do you think they call it the White House?” Ryman’s work, like that of any artist, is caught in its social situation and a politically focused writer could extend this critique a fair distance. When one critic says that regardless of Ryman’s denials, white still means “the absolute . . . light . . . the all inclusive,”25 how would such statements be felt in the nonwhite world? When another remarks that “no other colors can function without first taking [white] into account, seeking cooperation from, perhaps even paying homage to, the power of white,”26 do we not hear a dying resonance of the age of white imperialism? When he continues that Ryman, in limiting himself to white, is “stripping the spectrum down to a pure, blinding essence,” I catch resonances of John Milton’s paean to primal light in Paradise Lost, written in the mid 17th century, in the first feverish budding of the colonial period: “Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heav’n first-born, /Or of th’ Eternal Co-Eternal beam . . . /Bright effluence of bright essence increate.” Milton means that white precedes other colors, and the Western tradition has long assumed the universal priority of whiteness in virtually every sense—social, metaphysical, ontological. Similarly in Ryman’s work one can read a materialist metaphor to the effect that white gesso is the universal substratum that underlies all colors in all pictures. But there are troubling resonances. Perhaps as the Welsh poet Vernon Watkins wrote in his hymn to whiteness, “Music of Colors—White Blossom,” “White must die black, to be born white again.”27

Clearly Ryman’s work is aimed primarily at an educated Western audience that has passed through initiations into the sublime, the monochrome, and the Minimal—primarily, that is, at a white audience. It is not going too far to say that Ryman is a tradition-bound and tradition-celebrating artist, meaning an artist whose work assumes that its audience is all of one tradition, and who is quite comfortable with this limitation. And indeed, even in this multiculturalist moment one mustn’t lose sight of the fact that a Western artist has as much justification as another for indulging the idiosyncrasies and hermetic obsessions of his or her own tradition, however odd they might seem in a broader context.

But perhaps this social reading is too narrow. The physics of light and color are also said to attribute a certain primacy to white, asserting that white is the first color, the container of all others, and so on. And nonwhite cultures have also produced celebrations of this idea. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, speaks of the transformed soul in the afterlife as having a body of light, feeding on light, and dwelling among the circumpolar stars as one of them—as, in other words, white light.28 Similarly, the Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of various lights that will appear to the soul in the afterlife, and advises that it resist a “feeling of fondness for the dull smoke-coloured light” and take refuge instead in “the dazzling white light,” the light of the “Mirror-like Wisdom,” which is primal and will lead it to the ultimate afterlife location.29 Both Egyptians and Tibetans, of course, are or were nonwhite peoples."

Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, devoted a whole remarkable chapter to the poetic and associative meanings of whiteness. I will refrain from adding to them. My point, in any case, is that though Ryman’s work throws itself open to this kind of interpretation, these are questions in which he himself is essentially not involved. Within the artist’s sense of his work, white functions not as a signifier but as a condition of visibility: an aid to the directness and simplicity of the raw sense datum, which is the same for all.

Thomas McEvilley is a contributing editor of Artforum and teaches at the Institute for the Arts, Rice University. His next book, Art and Otherness, will be published by McPherson & Co., Kingston, N.Y., in June.


1. See, for example, Yve-Alain Bois, “Surprise and Equanimity,” Robert Ryman: New Paintings, exhibition catalogue, New York: Pace Gallery, 1990, n.p.

2. Kenneth Baker, “Ryman Art Opens New Work Series,” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 January 1988, p. E3.

3. For example Bois, in “Surprise and Equanimity.”

4. Quoted in the past and confirmed in a conversation with the author, 28 February 1992, New York.

5. Thomas McEvilley, “Heads It’s Form, Tails It’s Not Content,” Artforum XXI no. 3, November 1982, pp. 50-61. Republished in McEvilley, Art and Discontent: Theory at the Millennium, Kingston, N.Y.: McPherson and Company, 1991, pp. 23–62.

6. See, for example, Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” ArtforumV no. 10, June 1967, pp. 12–23.

7. Robert Ryman, speech delivered at the Dannheiser Foundation, New York, on 9 January 1991 for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s “Salon” series. The Pace Gallery, New York, provided me with a typescript of the text.

8. Piet Mondrian, “Neoplasticism in Painting,” 1917, in Hans L. C. Jaffe, ed., De Stijl, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1971, p. 76. Quoted in Donald Kuspit, “Fin de Siècle Abstraction: The Ambiguous Re-Turn Inwards,” Tema Celeste no. 34, January–March 1992, p. 53.

9. Ryman, quoted in Grace Glueck, “The 20th-Century Artists Most Admired by Other Artists,” Artnews 77 no. 6, November 1977, p. 100.

10. Piero Manzoni, 1960, quoted in Marcia Hafif, “True Colors,” Art in America 77 no. 6, June 1989, p. 135.

11. Other terms have also been used for this approach, including “Radical Painting” and, in reference to Ryman specifically, “plain painting.” I believe the latter term was coined by Robert Storr, in his “Robert Ryman: Making Distinctions,” in Christel Sauer and Urs Raussmüller, eds., Robert Ryman, Paris: Espace d’Art Contemporain, 1991, p. 41.

12. See Hafif, pp. 138, 139.

13. Rini Dippel, quoted in Haiti, p. 139.

14. Conversation with the author.

15. See Hafif, p. 133.

16. Robert Motherwell, quoted in Hafif, p. 135.

17. Storr, p. 37.

18. Kuspit, “Red Desert and Arctic Dreams,” Art in America 77 no. 4, March 1989, pp. 120–25; and Dan Cameron, “Robert Ryman: Ode to a Clean Slate,” Flash Art 24 no. 159, Summer 1991, p. 93.

19. See Karl H. Potter, ed., Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Indian Metaphysics and Epistemology: The Tradition of Nyāya Vaiśeṣika up to Gaṅgeśa, Princeton: at the University Press, 1977, pp. 143–47.

20. Ryman, quoted in Phyllis Tuchman, “Interview with Robert Ryman,” Artforum IX no. 9, May 1971. Reprinted in Gary Garrets, Robert Ryman, New York: Dia Art Foundation, 1988, p. 22.

21. Cameron, p. 91.

22. Kuspit, “Red Desert and Arctic Dreams,” p. 121.

23. Conversation with the author.

24. New York Post, 28 February 1992, p. 10.

25. Meyer Raphael Rubinstein and Daniel Wiener, “Robert Ryman, Dia Art Foundation,” Flash Art no. 144, January/February 1989, p. 121.

26. Cameron, p. 91.

27. Vernon Watkins, Unity of the Stream: Selected Poems, Reading, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1978, p. 20.

28. The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani, trans. E. A. Wallace Budge, New York: Dover Publications, 1967, pp. 288-91 and elsewhere.

29. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, trans. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1960, pp. 109–110.

30. The ample evidence of Greco-Roman authors describing Egyptians is that they were darker than Greeks but lighter than Ethiopians—that, in other words, they were in antiquity pigmented much as they are today. See, for example, Frank M. Snowden, Jr., Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks, Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1983.