Ad Reinhardt

(1913-1967)

About The Artist


Best known for his all-black or “ultimate” paintings, on which he focused during the last ten years of his career, Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967) devoted himself to the pursuit of pure abstraction. He jokingly described these works as “the last paintings that anyone can make,” despite knowing that he would continue to produce them. Rather than denoting the end point of art, these works represented the multiple possibilities available within a seemingly limited palette. Deeply influenced by early 20th century abstraction, Reinhardt cited Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian as particular sources of inspiration. In the late 1930s he became a member of the American Abstract Artists, an association that brought him considerable fame as well as the opportunity to exhibit at the renowned Betty Parsons Gallery and Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery. His output in the 1940s focused primarily on geometric shapes, advancing to paintings rendered in a single color after which he developed his signature black paintings in the late 1950s.

Reinhardt’s unerring commitment to pure form is most evident in his ultimate paintings. At first appearing all black, they are in fact made up of multiple shades – what Robert Storr referred to as “a full spectrum […] in the lowest possible tonal register.” These intensely rigorous works required lengthy preparations, with Reinhardt making diagrammatic sketches in advance. He would often remove the oil from the painted surface to achieve a delicate, matte, powdered finish. As the light changes, so too does the appearance of the paintings, which comes to reveal their range with repeated viewing. Reinhardt once said, “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.” Avoiding any reference to the world beyond the painting, Reinhardt’s work refuses interpretation and attests to the autonomy of art.

Reinhardt adopted a defiantly anti-establishment approach to much of his dealings with the art world. He rejected the revolutionary reputation of Abstract Expressionism, which Reinhardt believed was indebted to that earlier generation of abstract artists who had influenced him deeply. He set himself apart from his contemporaries by traveling extensively through Asia and the Middle East, where he studied Islamic art, Buddhist culture and prehistoric architecture. This experience affirmed his belief in the timeless value of abstract forms, which he contrasted with the desire for novelty that characterized the New York art scene in the 1960s. Uncompromising and resolutely principled, Reinhardt was much admired by his fellow artists and his work shaped the course of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and conceptual art. Richard Serra described Reinhardt as “a moral barometer”, whereas for Sol LeWitt, “[h]is art really became the key to my thinking.”

Interview with Ad Reinhardt, Conducted by Harlan Phillips, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, ca. 1964. Web. August 17, 2016. Storr, Robert, Ad Reinhardt exhibition tour, David Zwirner Gallery, 2013. Web. August 17, 2016. Cotter, Holland, “An Abstractionist Shaped By Wounded Ideals”, New York Times. Nov, 21. 2013. Web. August 17, 2016. Ad Reinhardt, “Black as Symbol and Concept,” in Barbara Rose, Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt. University of California Press, 1953. 86.

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