On permanent view at the Frist Art Museum’s Demonbreun Street entrance, Rose on 65th Street (2011) was a gift to the Frist Art Museum and is from a series of thirty-eight sculptures of gigantic roses created by New York artist Will Ryman. Arrayed along New York City’s Park Avenue from January 25 through May 31, 2011, the colossal flowers, each painted in a primary color or bright pink, stood in startling contrast to the towering buildings and busy traffic of the street.
A native New Yorker, Ryman has long been interested in creating experiences of delight by placing comically distorted and often outsized forms into both indoor and outdoor architectural sites. He says, “I always try to combine fantasy with reality. In the case of The Roses, I tried to convey New York City’s larger than life qualities through scale; creating blossoms which are imposing, humorous, and hopefully beautiful.”
Causing an unsettling mixture of pleasure (because of their beauty) and dislocation (because of their scale), the sculptures inspired viewers to imagine: what if, as was the case with Alice in Wonderland or the children in Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the works were not unnaturally large, but were part of a world in which people have gotten smaller (a feeling that is not uncommon in a large metropolis). This odd shrunken sensation is reinforced by the presence of giant insects—bees and aphids, primarily—on the stems and blossoms; we share the stage with not-so-little creatures we can no longer ignore.
While the roses are playful and engaging, Ryman’s other figurative sculptures often use humor to communicate existential unease, calling to mind the sardonic paintings of Philip Guston or the wry childlike narratives of Saul Steinberg. Ryman, who worked as a playwright before becoming an artist, has long been inspired by authors who convey life’s absurdity. As in such stories as Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (with its giant human cockroach) and Alice in Wonderland, the out-of-balance scale of his roses poses a question of hierarchy and perception—can art bring humanity’s inflated idea of its own importance back down to earth?
Ryman’s work has been included in numerous exhibitions including Tangled Up In You: Connecting,Coexisting, and Conceiving Identity (2008), at 21c Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; Contemporary Figurative Sculpture (2010), at Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, New York; Sculpture: Selections from the collection of Martin Z. Margulies (2007), at Margulies Warehouse, Miami; Greater New York 2005, at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts (2007), at The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; Reconfiguring the Body in American Art, 1820–2009 (2009), at The National Academy of Design, New York; and The Shape of Things to Come (2009), at The Saatchi Gallery, London. Ryman is represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York City. Will Ryman: The Roses was presented under the auspices of The Fund for Park Avenue Sculpture Committee and New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
The Frist Art Museum would like to thank Paul Kasmin Gallery and the following: exhibition designer Hans Schmitt-Matzen, the installation team of Scott Thom, Shane Doling, William Tomkins, and Duncan McDaniel, courier Don Kane, and lighting designer D. J. Palin.
Will Ryman (American, b. 1969)
Rose on 65th Street, 2011
Fiberglass resin and stainless steel