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Ad Reinhardt

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Geometric Abstraction

Born: December 24, 1913 - Buffalo, New York

Died: August 30, 1967 - New York, New York

Ad Reinhardt Timeline

Important Art by Ad Reinhardt

The below artworks are the most important by Ad Reinhardt - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Study for a Painting (1938)
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Study for a Painting (1938)

Artwork description & Analysis: This early composition by Ad Reinhardt exhibits the artist's profound interest and understanding of the Cubist art of Pablo Picasso and George Braque. The palette is typical of the style and is comprised of four colors essential for a Cubist painting: black, white, brown, and gray. The abstract shapes are dynamically arranged on the flat surface where the biomorphic curves intermingle with hard edges and straight lines. This small gouache presents Reinhardt as a talented young artist with a gift for absorption of the most relevant styles of painting of the time.

Gouache on paper - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Untitled (1938)
Artwork Images

Untitled (1938)

Artwork description & Analysis: Painted in the same year as the Cubist gouache, this canvas presents quite a stark contrast with Reinhardt's earlier artistic pursuits. Here he is obviously quoting Stuart Davis, the American artist who was a key influence on young Reinhardt. The booming palette employed by the artist has turned this arrangement of rectangular shapes into a feast of color - hot pink, orange, yellow, and red comprise a luminous symphony that inevitably engages the viewer. Later in his life Reinhardt abandoned such bright pigments. This example yet again testifies to the amazing versatility possessed by the young artist in terms of adopting and adapting various styles of modernist painting.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Abstract Painting, Red (1952)
Artwork Images

Abstract Painting, Red (1952)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is one of the paintings belonging to the Red Series. Here the artist immersed himself completely into the exploration of the color red, one of the most expressive among the primary colors. This composition is abstraction par excellence; the squares are arrayed into a rigid pattern with the variations of red hues defining its strict geometry. The artist himself maintained throughout his life that these paintings were completely free of narrative. One cannot help but wonder, however, whether a list of references could be decoded in this canvas due to its expressive palette, impressive size (9'x3.5'), and the almost totemic outline of the squares.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Abstract Painting, Blue (1952)
Artwork Images

Abstract Painting, Blue (1952)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Blue Series followed the Red Series of paintings and this is one of its most successful examples. The rectangular shapes of various shades of blue and green are suspended within a resplendent azure surface. They are solid blocks of color and yet they seem quite mesmerizingly weightless. It feels as if the artist attempted an abstract revision of the famed Water Lilies series (1899-1926) by Claude Monet, creating a harmonious, modernist peace. The velvety surface, construed by the application of numerous layers of oil pigments, further softens the stern geometry of the floating blocks.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Abstract Painting (1960-1966)
Artwork Images

The Abstract Painting (1960-1966)

Artwork description & Analysis: The artist devoted his late years almost exclusively to the creation of the Black Paintings (1953-67), the canvases of bewildering power that brought him the most fame. For Reinhardt, the color black in itself was an absolute point of abstraction. The purity of blackness consumes every other shape or color. The primary inspiration for the Black Paintings was the work of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, particularly his famed Black Square of 1914. None of the Reinhardt's Black Paintings (1953-67) were ever completely black, but, rather, consisted of a careful arrangement of tonalities that were meticulously applied in multiple layers. In this particular example, the blackness of the canvas is dissected by two rectangular shapes, which form a cross. The superimposed silhouettes carry the shades of gray and indigo blue. Reinhardt believed that his Black Paintings (1953-67) were the absolute zero of art. He developed this concept further in his theoretical writings, connecting it to such complex philosophies as Negation Theology, Neo-Platonism, and Zen Buddhism.

Oil on canvas - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

How to Look at Modern Art in America (1946; re-printed in 1961)
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How to Look at Modern Art in America (1946; re-printed in 1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this famous cartoon of 1946 Ad Reinhardt tried to encapsulate the essence of the artistic modernism with its history and inherent conflicts within the American context. The tree of modern art has its roots deep in history - the Greeks are here, and so are Persian miniatures and Japanese prints. The roots represent the four pillars of Post-Impressionism: Vincent Van Gogh, George Seurat, Paul Cezanne, and Paul Gauguin. The tree is burdened by the weights of "subject matter" and "business as art patron," and a cartoon within the cartoon mocks the perpetual debate of representation versus abstraction. By juxtaposing business and art, Reinhardt aptly comments on the situation of the avant-garde in the United States, where the public and, more importantly, the patrons were rather biased against the abstract art, often calling it "degenerate" and "subversive."

N/A - Originally printed in P.M. in 1946; Re-printed in ARTnews in 1961



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Ad Reinhardt Photo

Related Art and Artists

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Artist: Piet Mondrian

Artwork description & Analysis: In the 1920s, Mondrian began to create the definitive abstract paintings for which he is best known. He limited his palette to white, black, gray, and the three primary colors, with the composition constructed from thick, black horizontal and vertical lines that delineated the outlines of the various rectangles of color or reserve. The simplification of the pictorial elements was essential for Mondrian's creation of a new abstract art, distinct from Cubism and Futurism. The assorted blocks of color and lines of differing width create rhythms that ebb and flow across the surface of the canvas, echoing the varied rhythm of modern life. The composition is asymmetrical, as in all of his mature paintings, with one large dominant block of color, here red, balanced by distribution of the smaller blocks of yellow, blue gray, and white around it. This style has been quoted by many artists and designers in all aspects of culture since the 1920s.

Oil on canvas - Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

Black Square (c. 1915)

Black Square (c. 1915)

Artist: Kazimir Malevich

Artwork description & Analysis: Now badly cracked, the iconic Black Square was shown by Malevich in the 0.10 exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. This piece epitomized the theoretical principles of Suprematism developed by Malevich in his 1915 essay From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: The New Realism in Painting. Although earlier Malevich had been influenced by Cubism, he believed that the Cubists had not taken abstraction far enough. Thus, here the purely abstract shape of the black square (painted before the white background) is the single pictorial element in the composition. Even though the painting seems simple, there are such subtleties as brushstrokes, fingerprints, and colors visible underneath the cracked black layer of paint. If nothing else, one can distinguish the visual weight of the black square, the sense of an "image" against a background, and the tension around the edges of the square. But according to Malevich, the perception of such forms should always be free of logic and reason, for the absolute truth can only be realized through pure feeling. For the artist, the square represented feelings, and the white, nothingness. Additionally, Malevich saw the black square as a kind of godlike presence, an icon - or even the godlike quality in himself. In fact, Black Square was to become the new holy image for non-representational art. Even at the exhibition it was hung in the corner where an Orthodox icon would traditionally be placed in the Russian home.

Oil on canvas - Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Homage to the Square: Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)
Artwork Images

Homage to the Square: Dissolving/Vanishing (1951)

Artist: Josef Albers

Artwork description & Analysis: Homage to the Square is the signature series of over 1000 related works, which Albers began in 1949 and continued to develop until his death in 1976. Such sustained attention to a single aspect of painting reflects his conviction that insight is only attained through "continued trying and critical repetition." This early work exemplifies his basic approach to exploring the mutability of human perception and the range of optical and psychological effects that colors alone can produce depending on their position and proximity. Albers chose a single, repeated geometric shape, which he insisted was devoid of symbolism, to systematically experiment with the "relativity" of color, how it changes through juxtaposition, placement, and interaction with other colors, generating the illusion of attraction, resistance, weight, and movement. As in his earlier monochromatic and linear studies, this series explores the potential of static two-dimensional media to invoke dynamic three-dimensional space.

Oil on Masonite - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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