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Ad Reinhardt
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Wikipedia About Ad Reinhardt

Adolph Dietrich Friedrich Reinhardt (“Ad” Reinhardt) (December 24, 1913 – August 30, 1967) was an Abstract painter active in New York beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s. He was a member of the American Abstract Artists and was a part of the movement centered around the Betty Parsons Gallery that became known as Abstract Expressionism. He was also a founding member of the Artist’s Club. He wrote and lectured extensively on art and was a major influence on conceptual, minimal art and monochrome painting. Most famous for his “black” or “ultimate” paintings, he claimed to be painting the “last paintings” that anyone can paint. He believed in a philosophy of art he called Art-as-Art and used his writing and satirical cartoons to advocate for abstract art and against what he described as “the disreputable practices of artists-as-artists”. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Ad Reinhardt, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Ad Reinhardt is usually associated with the New York School of painters, especially Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, whose spare, glowing abstractions were meant to kindle near-religious experiences for their viewers. Reinhardt’s imagery is not unlike theirs, but his aims were completely different: he wanted to rid his work of all external subject matter, reducing his canvases to the sum of their component formal parts: line, color, and shape. “Art is art. Everything else is everything else,” he quipped,1 but looking at Reinhardt’s work is a demanding assignment that belies the simplicity of his statement. His geometric forms, rendered in dry, matte oil colors that are close in hue, are on first glance barely perceptible; the shapes emerge and separate from one another only after an extended period of looking. As scholar Yve-Alain Bois observes, Reinhardt’s paintings include very little optical incident, yet he is a completely optical painter, reducing the spectator to nothing more than an organ of vision.2 It is impossible to see his work properly in reproduction; ideally, the viewer’s experience should be similar to the artist’s: a personal confrontation with an object over time.

Reinhardt began as an abstract painter in the 1930s and never swerved from that course. He studied art history and philosophy at Columbia College in New York, was inspired by the utopian abstractions of Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, and nurtured a lifelong interest in Asian and Islamic painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. His own work dipped in and out of the gestural and the organic until around 1954, when he purged asymmetry, irregular compositions, and bright tonalities from his paintings. The Walker Art Center’s two blue-and-black canvases, M (1955) and Painting (1960), are typical of the nocturnal near-monochromes of this period.3 After 1961, he followed an even more stringent regimen: each painting was a sixty-inch square in matte black on black that described a barely visible, symmetrical cruciform image. In these so-called Black Paintings, he reduced his practice to the “endless repetition of infinite sameness … not sameness but oneness.”4

Like Barnett Newman, Reinhardt did not garner critical acclaim until the 1960s, and then it came from a younger generation who saw his work as a precursor to Minimalism. It is true that he was, like Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and others, committed to formalism, insisting that art’s one true subject was art itself. But in light of his interest in Buddhism and Eastern thought, some scholars suspect he found formalism the purest means to achieve an essentially private spiritual encounter with the self.5 For Reinhardt, the notions of unity and primary structures so basic to Minimalist dogma were related to an extra-intellectual state of being and a negation of content that suggested forms that were “Primary, unique, underivable from anything else … what is beyond utterance, ‘unutterableness.’”6

  1. This is the first statement in Reinhardt’s “25 Lines of Words on Art.” Quoted by H. Harvard Arnason, “The Quest for Art-Is-Art,” in Ad Reinhardt, Ad Reinhardt: Black Paintings 1951–1967, exh. cat. (New York: Marlborough Galleries, 1970), 13.

  2. Yve-Alain Bois, “The Limit of Almost,” in William Rubin, ed., Ad Reinhardt, exh. cat. (New York: Rizzoli, 1991), 28.

  3. Reinhardt generally titled his works Painting or Abstract Painting. The unusual title M was probably first used by dealer Virginia Dwan, who needed a system of identification for her show of his monochromes in 1962. Because Reinhardt was essentially uninterested in titles, M was preserved as the name of this piece even though its verso bears the inscription “Painting 1955” in the artist’s hand. For more information, see Bois, “Limit of Almost,” and the Virginia Dwan Papers at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

  4. From Reinhardt’s notes, in Barbara Rose, ed., Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt (New York: Viking Press, 1975), 77–78.

  5. See Barbara Rose, “The Black Paintings,” in Black Paintings 1951–1967, 19.

  6. From “One,” an undated text published in Rose, Art-as-Art, 93.

Rothfuss, Joan. “Ad Reinhardt.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center


artist’s quote artist’s quote Reinhardt, Ad, 1953

The less an artist thinks in non-artistic terms and the less he exploits the easy, common skills, the more of an artist he is. “The less an artist obtrudes himself in his painting, the purer and clearer his aims.”…..“Less is more.” Ad Reinhardt, 1953