I was one of those people unselfconsciously entranced by the Modern’s 1993 Robert Ryman retrospective. Yes, its extremism was almost comical: having restricted his palette to white since the early sixties, he filled the museum’s galleries with what seemed like countless monochrome variations, which, in the Minimalist mode, called attention to gestural marks, the materiality of the canvas and surface, the shape of the support, and at times the means by which a work attached to the wall. His microscopy might have entailed more than a little quixotic insanity, but the sonata-like sweep of the show had what I felt to be an undeniable beauty. Still, by its end, he seemed to have wrung that particular sponge dry.

In his latest series, which was on view at PaceWildenstein’s Chelsea gallery,[1] Ryman added but a single element, color as underpainting, to his limited arsenal of means. A...


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