April 1, 2022 at 1:05 am

Why Are There All-White Paintings in Museums Worth Millions?

by Ashley Dreiling

Perhaps the most commonly uttered phrase inside a modern art museum is, “I could do that.” If everyone can create these controversial pieces, why did artist Robert Ryman‘s all-white painting, “Bridge,” fetch $20.6M at auction? Is it even really art?

Paintings like Ryman’s are considered Minimalism Art, which came about in the late 1950s as a rejection of Expressionism Art. According to Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, there is more to both of these movements than meets the eye, literally. Perhaps the most famous abstract expressionist artist was Jackson Pollack, whose colorful paint-splattered work was all about the artists’ movement, their bodies, their “expressions” during a moment in time.

Minimalism, by contrast, is meant to portray order, simplicity, and harmony, and states that art should be as far removed from its creator as possible. Both movements commonly evoke strong emotional reactions from audiences. The examination of one’s reaction to modern art, Sherman argues, is precisely what makes these seemingly over simplistic creations art. Put more bluntly, maybe “you could do that,” but you didn’t.


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