New York, New York
Sept 9 - Oct 22nd, 2022
By JONATHAN GOODMAN October, 2022
Will Ryman's current solo exhibition at Chart Gallery consists of wildly caricatured studies of eccentric people from New York City. Ryman's characters wear colorfully outlandish outfits, sit on benches where the ground is littered with most everything: quart beer bottles; fast food french fries; a pigeon on a tall man’s head, his hair dyed blonde (all these objects have been made by the artist himself). Ryman’s sense of the absurd that has taken over this city—our behavioral excesses and eccentricities in clothing, our disconnectedness from the visual anarchy surrounding us, our loss of a common ground—is absolutely precise. But not only are his scenarios telling in their detail, they are also funny. Anyone who has walked on the streets of the city will immediately recognize the whimsical (but also slightly disturbing) sculpture called Utopia (2022), mountain of detritus we see, including bent, open-wire garbage cans: a cantaloupe sliced in half, several cans of soda, the stripped rod of an umbrella, its black handle extending beyond the wire mesh. If the humor is broad, it is also accurate; New York City has become a playground noticeable for its lack of restraint in the way we act, the way we eat and drink, the way we relate to each other.
In light of this extravagant scenario, the earlier art of New York City, evident primarily in its elegant abstraction, seems to have lost all ground. Good art is not always only the domain of the artist; it is also a response to what is going on. Ryman’s parodies can border on the sardonic, but that is likely his decision—his way of surviving the visual extremism he faces on a daily basis. In Give Us a Shot (2022), a trio of undeniable eccentrics sits on a park bench. On the left side, a medium-size man whose head is raised back and whose eyes are open wide, lifts a giant hero sandwich to a mouth with sharp teeth. In the middle, we find a tall, thin man in a white athletic suit, with small eyes high up in his brown, clay face. His hair is dyed yellow, and a paper very much like The New York Post sits beneath his feet. A pigeon rests on his head, and then, on the right, a small figure with a ghastly white face and upraised hands sits on his part of the bench as if he were imploring God. His dark pants are decorated with white stars. All three men form a ridiculous trinity, in which the vulgarities of our time are exaggerated beyond point or purpose.
Ryman is extremely good at capturing the oddities of our times. Even flowers become travesties of anything beautiful. In The Hip Hop Streets (2022), a small work presenting larger implications, four red stems support groups of flowers, rising from a littered patch of ground. The green rounded arches used as a short fence to keep people from stepping on the dirt are there, but they appear useless, given the obvious neglect. And in Pop-Corn (2022), a large bucket of popcorn has fallen on its side, spilling large kernels everywhere. A group of steel-rod birds — they must be pigeons— surround the container and peck at individual morsels of corn. I am certain that anyone living in New York City has seen something very, very similar. It is hard sometimes not to feel that our city is falling apart, but behind the confusion and the strange clothing, we can enjoy the continuing energy of a city that still supports a highly talented artist like Will Ryman. He has the courage to reflect the city’s visual clamor. As a result, he makes funny, distinctive art about the ways and means of contemporary urban life. The cartoonish quality of his sculptures makes the work surrealistically comic, as well as being accessible to everyone. It is a funny, accomplished show. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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