In 2002, the world famous Pompidou Centre in Paris devoted a headline exhibition not to an artist but a to literary critic, and that critic was Roland Barthes. For the purposes of penetrating the veneer of mystique around Ryder, we must take as our reference text Barthes’ critical essay entitled ‘Death of the Author’. In it, Barthes surmises that one must disengage with the author to appreciate text in its truest form. In essence, he asserts that we as an audience have subjectivity imposed upon us – that our knowledge of an author, painter or poet ultimately colours our opinion of, and attitude towards, the piece itself. He urges us to look beyond the constraints of the simple answer, the easy route, and to judge each creation on its own merit.
The more thought one gives to this notion, the more weight Barthes’ argument carries; what a tragedy if one were unable simply to appreciate the beauty of a Van Gogh without searching for signs of madness within its composition. ‘Death of The Author’ promotes empowerment and gives us back control; no dictatorial biography, instead a metaphorical blank canvas for us, the audience, to take charge and form our own opinions. Thus we come to this collection. Ryder is no more, no less than a name on a piece of paper. No artist biography to influence your impressions, no collection overview to police your critique, just the art laid bare. As Barthes stated, “it is language which speaks, not the author” and so we have given Ryder a voice, and allowed the art to do the talking.