Will Ryman

Will Ryman

Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc. 

The gallery.  Exhibition space itself has largely become the contextualization of art.  This is not just to say there are requisite architectural delineations of white walls without moldings, but to say that the intellectual and commercial capital of a gallery bears directly on the impact of the work it shows.

Will Ryman, in two successive acts of guerilla galleryship (2003, 2004), created an installation for his installation.  His sculptural anthropoids, in the midst of their various doings (engaged in simple, but significant situations), populated a theatrical pseudo-gallery, fashioned by the artist from his Bowery loft.  Ryman’s work, rather than bear the brunt of a disassociation with its exhibition space (i.e. this is the work, this is where the work is), inhabits a theatre of its own.  In Ryman’s first New York solo show, which largely recreates the second of the Bowery installations, the viewer will literally walk on stage with the sculptural actors—who range in size from a towering 138 inches (“Big Guy”), to a diminutive 13 inches (“Little Guy”), and range in physical aspect from emotive and fetal, to emotive and genitalial.

The theatricality of Ryman’s sculptures (constructed of papier-mâché, PVC piping and acrylic paint, the figures take on puppet-like personas) is no accident.  Ryman, who spent ten years as a playwright, brings narrative and drama to his sculptural tableaus.  Very much like actors in stage sets, or characters in plays, Ryman’s figures are caught, as if forever, in sympathetic and vulnerable moments.  One figure hugs another in “Embrace.”  A dog-ish thing sits, as if stunned, while its master stares at the viewer in “Boy walking his Dog.”  A couple contemplates their pregnancy in “The Bedroom.”  Nevertheless, Ryman’s theatricality remains saccharine in its empathy, as the situations that his minions endure are as absurd as they are tragic.  In “The Pit,” 91 of his creatures face the Twilight Zone conundrum of enclosure in an open box.  In “The Cage,” keeping with Ryman’s participatory theater, it is the imprisoned viewer who finds him/herself the star of a sideshow spectacle.  Our contemporary plight is all too silly, and all too real.  Sad, those canvas sneakers.  Sad, that wire hair.