Ad Reinhardt (American, Buffalo, New York 1913 - 1967 New York)
Abstract Painting, 1948
Signed (?) twice on stretcher: Reinhardt
Oil on canvas
76 1/4 x 144 in. (193.7 x 366 cm)
Ruth C. Roush Fund for Contemporary Art, 1967
Cool tones of red, pink, blue, and green expand and vibrate across the enormous field of Abstract Painting, creating an optical environment of floating planes and shapes. The work offers no trace of painterly gesture, nor any subject apart from the intricate, visual rhythms and relationships that both comprise the picture field and seem to extend beyond the frame of the painting
Reinhardt's Abstract Painting of 1948 belongs to a moment when ambitious painters in New York were recasting the European models and aims of modernist art. Many young painters, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and Barnett Newman turned to Surrealist and "primitivist" art during the 1940s in their search for "tragic and timeless subject matter."1 Reinhardt rejected the subjectivist ethos and biomorphic forms of early Abstract Expressionism; he insisted on the purely visual aims of abstract painting, and by the late 1940s was working exclusively with nonsymbolic, geometric forms. His points of reference were the "pure" abstractions of Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), and, as is particularly evident in Oberlin's Abstract Painting , the overall grid structures and solid blocks of color in the abstract paintings of Piet Mondrian.
Unlike Mondrian's easel-sized works, which were normally scaled to the eye and body of the viewer, many of Reinhardt's works of the late 1940s and early ‘50s are on an enormous scale, creating an expansive visual environment. Rather than restrict his palette to black, white, and primary hues as did Mondrian, Reinhardt worked with secondary and tertiary hues, and dispensed with outlines. Mondrian's clear, balanced fields of line and color secure a single plane or surface. In contrast, paintings such as Abstract Painting produce flickering planes of color that interlock and overlap as they nudge forward and back in an endlessly adjustable picture plane.
Work (C) 1998 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Adolph Dietrich Friedrich Reinhardt was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1913. From 1931 to 1935, he studied literature and art history at Columbia University, where he received his bachelor's degree. After taking a few studio classes at the National Academy of Design, he studied at the American Artist's School on Fourteenth Street, where he was influenced by the abstract painting of his teachers, Francis Criss (b. 1901) and Carl Holty (1900-1973). In 1937, Reinhardt joined the American Abstract Artists, and became involved in the American Artists' Congress and the Artists' Union, both socially and aesthetically progressive arts organizations. He worked for the Easel Division (as opposed to the Mural Division) of the WPA Federal Art Project between 1936 and 1941. His painting of this period is fully abstract, solid toned, and geometric, comprised of interlocking circular and rectangular shapes.
During the early 1940s, Reinhardt's painting passed through a brief period of gestural marking and organic forms. By the mid to late '40s (after his return from military service in 1944-45), Reinhardt's painting developed in a consistent direction of hard-edged, geometric abstraction. In 1946 he joined the Betty Parsons Gallery, where Abstract Expressionist artists such as Rothko, Gottlieb, and Newman regularly exhibited, and his work appeared there in The Ideographic Picture group exhibition of 1947. In 1947 Reinhardt also began teaching art history at Brooklyn College. He remained a prolific writer and polemicist throughout his life.
Throughout the 1950s, Reinhardt gradually purged all curving forms from his canvases, creating exclusively rectilinear, and eventually square blocks of single colors. The solid, symmetrical, monochrome blocks that are associated with his late painting began to appear in 1952. His final series of monotone works, in which the picture field is barely visible, was comprised of nine Greek crosses. Reinhardt's late work had an impact on Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Rose, Barbara, ed. Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt. New York, 1975.
Lippard, Lucy. Ad Reinhardt. New York, 1981.
Ad Reinhardt. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1991. Chiefly illustrations, but includes bibliography.
Purchased from the artist in 1967
New York, Betty Parsons Gallery, 1949. Ad Reinhardt. October - November. No cat.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1965. New York School, the First Generation: Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. 16 July - 1 August. Cat. no. 94.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1966. Fifty Years of Modern Art, 1916-1966. Summer. Cat. no. 105.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1980. From Reinhardt to Christo: Works Acquired through the Benefaction of the Late Ruth C. Roush. 20 February - 19 March. Cat. no. 12.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1989. Planar Vision: Geometric Abstract Painting in New America Since 1945. 15 September - 5 November. Cat. pp. 118-19.
Sandler, Irving. "Reinhardt, the Purist Backlash." Artforum 5, no. 4 (December 1966), pl. 47.
Johnson, Ellen H. "Modern Americans at Oberlin." The Burlington Magazine 110 (June 1968), pp. 354-57.
Johnson, Ellen H. "Four American Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 26, no. 1 (Fall 1968), pp. 27-33.Ad Reinhardt. Exh. cat., Städische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf, 1972, p. 19.
Johnson, Ellen H. "American Art of the Twentieth Century." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 129, ill.
Selz, Peter. Art in Our Times: A Pictorial History 1890-1980. New York, 1981, p. 373.
Planar Vision: Geometric Abstract Painting in New America Since 1945. Exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1989, pp. 118-19.
Bois, Yve-Alain. Ad Reinhardt. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1991, pp. 21-23.
The painting was executed on a smooth, thin, white ground. The paint density is moderate, and although the paint appears to have been applied directly, there is evidence of thin washes of color beneath the uppermost colored shapes. Slightly overlapping colors are occasionally visible at the edges of the shape, but this does not result in any alteration of color, due to the thickness and opacity of the final paint layer. Slightly varying amounts of medium were used, resulting in variations in gloss. The surface is unvarnished.The painting is in good condition. There are narrow, localized areas of cracking and minimal losses and abrasions at the edges.
1. These terms are quoted from the well-known letter by Adolph Gottlieb and Marcus (Mark) Rothko, in Edward Alden Jewell, "The Realm of Art: A New Platform and Other Matters: ‘Globalism' Pops into View," The New York Times (13 June 1943), x9. See the entries on their paintings in this catalogue for further information.