Robert Mangold was born on October 12, 1937, in Buffalo, New York. In 1956 he enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Art. In 1957 he traveled to see the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, where he gained exposure to the work of a wide variety of Abstract Expressionist painters. That same year he attended a major exhibition of Clyfford Still’s paintings at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. Mangold's work soon reflected an interest in Abstract Expressionism as well as in the work of Alberto Burri and Antonio Tàpies.

He began producing large-scale abstract paintings, moving away from an earlier interest in naturalism. After graduating in 1959, he was awarded a fellowship to attend the Yale Summer School of Music and Art, and in the fall of 1960 he entered the graduate program at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture. There he experimented with a variety of stylistic idioms. His classmates included Nancy Graves, Brice Marden, and Richard Serra. In 1962 he moved to New York, where he took a position as a guard and later as a library assistant at the Museum of Modern Art, where he met a number of artists, including Sol LeWitt and Robert Ryman. By 1964 Mangold had developed his signature Minimalist painting style.

His first solo exhibition was held at the Fischbach Gallery in New York in 1965. In 1966 Mangold’s work was included in Primary Structures, the first major exhibition of Minimalist painting, at the Jewish Museum in New York. In 1968 Mangold began employing acrylic instead of oil paint, rolling rather than spraying it on masonite or plywood grounds. Within the year he moved from these more industrially oriented supports to canvas. In 1970 he began working with shaped canvases and within the same year began brushing paint onto canvas. Major museum exhibitions of Mangold’s work have been held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1971), the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (1974), the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1982), and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (2006). His recent series utilize elemental forms like the column and ring and employ his characteristic economy of color, gesture, and shape. Mangold lives and works in Washingtonville, New York.