Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Will Ryman: A New Beginning at Marlborough Chelsea

September 10 – October 10, 2009
545 West 25 Street
New York City, 212-463-8634

installation shot of the exhibition under review.
installation shot of the exhibition under review.

Will Ryman has transplanted a spectacular urban garden to the gallery floor, abloom with more than 100 mammoth hand-constructed roses in a vibrant palette of pinks and reds. Ranging in height from a couple of feet to seven and clustered in groups like at a crowded cocktail party, the flowers have a strong figural presence. While evocative of , the gray otherworldly creatures that densely populated Ryman’s earlier work, these sculptures feel completely fresh and unexpected in their riot of color, immediately recognizable yet strange in their outsized dimensions. Ryman invites us to step through the looking glass and navigate this immersive landscape from a bug’s eye view.

For indeed, we are not alone in the undergrowth. Ryman plants a meaty black fly on a column like a sore thumb. He tucks aphids, ladybugs, and giant bees amidst the curling and unfurling petals, magnifying nature’s pesty business. He litters the scene as well with man’s throwaway business—stubbed-out cigarette butts, a crumpled Coke can, a half-eaten hotdog, a Trident gum wrapper. It’s the kind of detritus that city dwellers tend to become oblivious to. But here—by flipping the relationship between the flowers and the viewers and blowing up the scale of these items—Ryman puts the evidence of our carelessness squarely in our faces in a bit of social commentary.

Yet Ryman clearly has affection for these contemporary artifacts, lovingly painted in every detail of the logos and reminiscent of the artist’s earlier meticulously wacky recreation of a New York newsstand (echoing Red Grooms’s “Ruckus Manhattan.”) They show his humorous, pop sensibility and his eye for urban detail. A lifelong New Yorker, Ryman has even loosely tiled the floor with his own textured steel squares that clank a bit as viewers move around and mimic the gritty feel of the city underfoot. What’s seems different here is how he applies humble industrial materials—wire mesh, plaster, house paint, metal tubing—to such a voluptuous, organic form as the rose, a universal symbol of beauty and romance as well as treachery with its prickly thorns. As in the films of David Lynch, a seedy underbelly lurks below the rosy landscape.

This defiled Garden of Eden seems an allegory of the city itself, with the roses—which Ryman intentionally leaves rough to underscore their manufacture—taking on an architectural quality as well. If the “new beginning” of the title refers in part to the new direction Ryman is taking here in his work, he may also be suggesting that the glorious city of New York, which has taken such a battering these last few years, is ready for a new day.