New York

Anne Ryan

The Brooklyn Museum

Anne Ryan discovered collage after seeing the Kurt Schwitters memorial exhibition in 1948. Within the remaining six years of her life, Ryan transformed Schwitters’ influence into a quiet poetic vision of her own. Her early works explore the various possibilities of collage. One piece uses hard-edged rectangular shapes arranged individually without any overlapping; others employ stamps, letters, and similar connotative materials in direct reference to Schwitters. Soon, though, Ryan structured her format with a Cubist grid and selected her personal palette from bits of cloth, ranging from finely woven linens to coarser hemps, and scraps of paper, varying in grain from fragile rice paper to mottled Hovell paper or cardboard. Abandoning the use of specifically allusive material, the printed ephemera which informs Schwitters’ work, Ryan wove her abstract imagery out of remnants chosen for their color and texture rather than their narrative potential. Yet her works are never cold, impersonal abstractions. There is a vulnerable humanness to her work similar to that of Schwitters. By leaving the ragged, irregular edges of the torn paper or fraying cloth and by utilizing worn, sometimes stained, fabric and occasionally wrinkled paper, Ryan emphasized the handmade facture of her pieces. The small size of the works further heightens the sense of intimacy.

The Classicism of Ryan’s approach can be seen in her series of oval collages which, in their ordered overlapping of planar shapes, as well as their format, call to mind certain analytic Cubist works. However, Ryan never used still life as a pretext for her pictures; her constructions evolved out of themselves without reference to external reality. The importance of intuitive decision-making in Ryan’s work links her to the Abstract Expressionist sensibility of her time. While a few of her collages jumble fragmented scraps of color in a chaotic allover pattern, the comparisons are generally closer to Hans Hofmann than to Pollock. Ryan’s colors, though, are rarely as vivid as those of Hofmann. Indeed her best works are a series of pale, predominantly off-white collages covering the entire surface of the rectangular support. Through the esthetic arrangement of torn against cut edges, opaque against transparent materials and rough against smooth textures, Ryan created delicate visual organizations which evoke a feeling of harmonious and yet ephemeral order.

Susan Heinemann