Will Ryman, redux

Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc. 

In his second solo show at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Gallery, Will Ryman takes on our expectations—at first, confronting us with the ultimate in superficiality, and then contextualizing the experience with an elucidation of the underlying processes.  

Upon entering the gallery, the south room is filled with a life-scale tableau of Ryman’s puppet-like sculptures (constructed of papier-mâché, PVC piping and acrylic paint).  The maudlin figures consist of a man walking his dog, a “Couple in Love,” a beggar, and a homeless person (perhaps), sitting on the floor screaming.  They are painted brightly, and surround a newsstand filled with candy (sweet tasting poison) and media (more sweet tasting poison).  Amidst Ryman’s handcrafted Mounds bars, we see newspapers and magazines, announcing “War,” and crucial investigations such as  “50 ways to be a better girlfriend,” and “50 most beautiful New Yorkers”.  The scene is one of uncompromised surface—the magazine gloss of the acrylic paint lays stress to the thinness of this existence.  Ryman deftly captures the horror, the comfort, of surfing through life on a wave of the banal.  The supersaturation of color, candy, pop-culture, and tabloid journalism, makes it easy to meander, half-awake, through life.  We borrow from the ready-made clichés of living; there are easy ways to think of love, of domesticity and of poverty.  Ryman neatly demonstrates how appealing it all is.

As one moves into the north room, however, the trajectory of the show shifts.  Thirty figures, all untitled, ranging in size from diminutive to enormous, are presented without color, in the gray tones of their papier-mâché insides.  The anthropoids are singing, or screaming, and Ryman sets up the disturbing duality that, beneath our superficiality, we are just as likely to find another level of superficiality as to find a deeper consciousness.