Ad Reinhardt

September 21, 2013MuseumOfNewArt (FB)


Abstract Painting, 1963 by Ad Reinhardt.

“There is something wrong, irresponsible and mindless about color; something impossible to control. Control and rationality are part of my morality.” — Ad Reinhard in 1960

Abstract Painting contains three distinct shades of black, which become visible only after prolonged looking. Reinhardt was intensely sensitive to such subtle variations. He explained, “There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.” When Reinhardt’s black paintings were first exhibited at MoMA, in 1963, their reductive imagery and stark palette shocked visitors, prompting at least one Museum membership cancellation in protest.

This monochrome painting by American artist Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) is in the Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York. It’s 60×60″ (152.4×152.4cm), oil on canvas, and was painted 1960-61. For the last decade and a bit of his life (he died in 1967), Reinhardt used just black in his paintings.

Amy Sia, who took the photo, says the usher is pointing out how the painting is actually split up into nine squares, each a different shade of black.

Don’t worry if you can’t see it in the photo — it’s hard to see even when you’re in front of the painting. In her essay on Reinhardt for the Guggenheim, Nancy Spector describes Reinhardt’s canvases as “muted black squares containing barely discernible cruciform shapes [that] challenge the limits of visibility”.

In the last ten years of his life, Reinhardt focused solely on square, black paintings. In his unpublished writings, the artist indicates that these pictures relate aesthetically to monotonal Chinese paintings rather than Western painting’s concepts of light and dark. These canvases are intentionally enigmatic, painted to resist interpretation and to represent the beginning of a new way of seeing and thinking about art. In 1961, Reinhardt described them thus:

A square (neutral, shapeless) canvas, five feet wide, five feet high, as high as a man, as wide as a man’s outstretched arms (not large, not small, sizeless), trisected (no composition), one horizontal form negating one vertical form (formless, no top, no bottom, directionless), three (more or less) dark (lightless) no–contrasting (colorless) colors, brushwork brushed out to remove brushwork, a matte, flat, free–hand, painted surface (glossless, textureless, non–linear, no hard-edge, no soft edge) which does not reflect its surroundings—a pure, abstract, non–objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting—an object that is self–conscious (no unconsciousness) ideal, transcendent, aware of no thing but art (absolutely no anti–art).

Ad Reinhardt, in full Adolf Frederick Reinhardt (born Dec. 24, 1913, Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.—died Aug. 30, 1967, New York, N.Y.), American painter who painted in several abstract styles and influenced the Minimalist artists of the 1960s.


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