Ryman became friends with fellow MoMA guards Dan Flavin
and Sol LeWitt
, and while on the job met the art critic Lucy R. Lippard
, whom he married in 1960 (they divorced in 1966). He was remarried in 1969, to the painter Merrill Wagner
; Ryman had three sons—Will
Ryman with Wagner, and Ethan Ryman with Lippard—all of whom are artists.
Though he considered himself a realist, Ryman rose to fame at a time in the 1960s and ‘70s when Minimalism and later Conceptual Art
were emerging as correctives to the dramatic gestures of Abstract Expressionism. He had his first solo show in 1967, and many more quickly followed; in 1972, the Guggenheim Museum
staged his first retrospective in the U.S. More recently, the Dia Art Foundation
devoted a major exhibition
to his work at its Chelsea space in 2015; a selection of Ryman’s paintings is also on long-term view
at the foundation’s building in Beacon in upstate New York.
He created white paintings in virtually every conceivable format and material, from oil paint on square canvases and linen, to pastel, casein, gouache, polyvinyl acetate emulsion, acrylic, and more, on supports that included fiberglass, Gator board, aluminum panels, wax paper, wood, Lumasite, coffee-filter paper, and more, mounted on supports ranging from nails and braces to steel bolts, nails, masking tape, foam blocks, and more.
In a 1972 interview
with the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, Ryman said: