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Artists Ad Reinhardt
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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


"Art is art-as-art and everything else is everything else."
Ad Reinhardt
"The only way to say what abstract is, is to say what it is not."
Ad Reinhardt
"Painting cannot be the only activity of a mature artist."
Ad Reinhardt
"My painting represents the victory of the forces of darkness and peace over the powers of light and evil."
Ad Reinhardt
"As an artist I would like to eliminate the symbolic pretty much, for black is interesting not as a color but as a non-color and as the absence of color."
Ad Reinhardt
"I want to emphasize the idea of black as intellectuality and conventionality."
Ad Reinhardt
"My paintings are the last paintings one can make."
Ad Reinhardt

"As an artist I would like to eliminate the symbolic pretty much, for black is interesting not as a color but as a non-color and as the absence of color."

Ad Reinhardt Signature


Ad Reinhardt was a prominent American abstract artist, writer, critic, and educator. Although commonly associated with the Abstract Expressionists, his work had its origins in geometric abstraction, and, increasingly seeking to purify his painting of everything he saw as extraneous to art, he rejected the movement's expressionism. Although he was in turn rejected by many of his peers, he was later hailed as a prophet by Minimalists. His Black Paintings, which occupied him from 1954 until his death, are regarded as his crowning achievement, while the many cartoons he created that made fun of the art world brought him fame as a wry commentator.

Key Ideas

Ad Reinhardt is one of the few major American artists to have explored geometric abstraction and, unlike many of those Cubist- and Bauhaus-influenced artists who did, he firmly opposed attempts to put abstraction in the service of design - be it for the purposes of decoration, industrial design, or advertising.
His most famous series, the Black Paintings (1954-67), are all uniform, five-foot squares and are composed such that a ghostly Greek cross hovers, barely visible, in a mist of barely distinguished black and gray hues. Reinhardt felt they represented the ultimate in abstract painting - paintings that were concerned with art alone and bore no reference to anything outside themselves - not even to the hints of soul and angst in Abstract Expressionist pictures.
Although Reinhardt sought to remove all references to the external world from his pictures, he remained convinced that his art had the potential to affect social change. He also maintained an interest in various types of mysticism - something the viewer might appreciate in the struggle to comprehend the barely delineated forms in his Black Paintings (1954-67).

Most Important Art

Ad Reinhardt Famous Art

The Abstract Painting (1960-1966)

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.
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Ad Reinhardt Artworks in Focus:



Adolph Frederick Reinhardt was born in Buffalo, New York, to a family of immigrants. The family settled in New York City soon after his birth. He excelled at school and exhibited an interest in the visual arts from an early age; in high school, he worked as an illustrator for the school's newspaper. An inveterate reader, he set his sights on the elite universities of the east coast and turned down several scholarships from art schools, opting instead for undergraduate studies in art history at Columbia University in New York, which he commenced in 1931.

Early Training

At Columbia, Reinhardt studied under Meyer Schapiro, an iconic American historian of art. His two majors included literature and art history, giving him a solid background in the humanities, while informing him of the latest trends in visual arts and theory. Schapiro, known for his Marxist views, introduced Reinhardt to radical campus politics, which shaped the leftist views that he maintained throughout the rest of his life.

Upon graduation in 1935, Reinhardt began training as an artist, first at the National Academy of Design and later at the American Artists School on 14th Street in New York. At the AAS, he fell under the influence of two progressive painters, Francis Criss and Carl Holty, who were influenced by the European traditions of Cubism and Constructivism.

Mature Period

Between 1936 and 1941, Reinhardt was one of the few abstract artists employed by the Works Progress Administration of the Federal Arts Project (WPA/FAP) in its easel division. While engaged in this work he met other leading artists such as Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky, whose friendship would continue to be important to him.

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Ad Reinhardt Biography Continues

During this period, Reinhardt's works were mainly influenced by the geometric abstraction he had learned as a student. At times his work took on aspects of gestural abstraction, yet his handling was restrained in comparison to that of some of his peers. In concert with this, he also worked as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist for several New York publications, including PM and ARTnews.

Reinhardt's mature work is characterized by his search for an absolute form of abstraction. He considered Abstract Expressionism to be plagued with suggestive biomorphism, an abundance of emotional innuendos, and a cult of the ego. In contrast, he sought to create an abstract art that contained no suggestions of narrative or emotion and withheld the slightest reference to anything outside the canvas.

In this regard, Reinhardt was deeply influenced by the art and theoretical writings of Kazimir Malevich, the Russian Suprematist. Malevich's Black Square (1915) inspired the artist to begin using solid fields of color arranged in rigid geometric patterns of squares and rectangles. These experiments in the early 1950s resulted in several series of paintings devoted to a single color - the Red Paintings, the Blue Paintings, and, finally, the Black Paintings (1954-67).

Late Years and Death

From 1954 until his death in 1967, Reinhardt devoted himself exclusively to the Black Paintings. The artist believed in the profound symbolic potency of the color black. For him it was the absolute zero, the end of light, a point so irreducible that painting as a genre was pushed to its limit of expression.

An encounter with one of Reinhardt's Black Paintings (1954-67) is inevitably complex and conflicting. The viewer is stunned by the complete absence of either narrative or coloristic interplay, and yet the canvas is overwhelmingly full of color; a closer look reveals that the ostensibly monochrome surface is composed of various shades of black, from light to dark.

Reinhardt developed a sophisticated technique to create the effects he desired. He siphoned off oil from the pigments that he used to produce a very delicate suede-like finish. His matte surfaces thus further absorb light into their refined darkness. This technique is responsible for the serious conservation issues associated with Reinhardt's Black Paintings (1954-67) today. Their surfaces are so fragile and the original technique so complex that the conservation and restoration of each canvas is always an arduous, expensive, and time-consuming task.

Reinhardt died of a massive heart attack on August 30, 1967, at the age of 53, in his New York studio.


Ad Reinhardt's oeuvre remains a pivotal cornerstone in the evolution from the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s to the Minimal and Conceptual art movements of the following decade. Often ridiculed by his expressionist peers, Reinhardt came to be seen as a priest and prophet figure by the subsequent generation, for whom he provided a bridge back to Constructivism. While it is debatable whether Reinhardt ever managed to completely purge his art so completely of references to the outside world, this aim was identical with that of Minimalists such as Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and Robert Morris.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Ad Reinhardt
Interactive chart with Ad Reinhardt's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart


Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
Josef AlbersJosef Albers
Francis CrissFrancis Criss


Meyer SchapiroMeyer Schapiro
Thomas MertonThomas Merton


Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
Years Worked: 1935 - 1967


Donald JuddDonald Judd
Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman
Mark RothkoMark Rothko
Frank StellaFrank Stella


Thomas B. HessThomas B. Hess


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Monochrome PaintingMonochrome Painting
Hard-edge PaintingHard-edge Painting

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Content compiled and written by Ivan Savvine

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Useful Resources on Ad Reinhardt





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Ad Reinhardt Recomended resource

By Yves-Alain Bois

Ad Reinhardt

By Michael Corris

Ad Reinhardt: Last Paintings

By Heinz Liesbrock, Ad Reinhardt

More Interesting Books about Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt Papers at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art

Provides Access to Ad Reinhardt's Writings, Drawings, and Printed Materials from the Smithsonian Archives

The Museum of Modern Art Collection: Ad Reinhardt Recomended resource

Features a Biography and an Image Gallery of Works by the Artist

Opening Lines: The Drawings of Ad Reinhardt Recomended resource

By Prudence Peiffer
February 2012

Tall, Dark, and Fragile

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
August 1, 2008

Ad Reinhardt, Newspaper Cartoonist: The Abstract Double Agent

By Richard B. Woodward
The New York Times
December 21, 2003

Reinhardt Retrospective Explores the Vital Absent Recomended resource

By Michael Brenson
The New York Times
May 31, 1991

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