Painted in 1959, Painting represents a distillation of Ad Reinhardt’s vision of the medium presented in striking and poetic terms. The painting presents two blocks of midnight blue, like doors opening into an expanse of twilight sky, floating above rich bands of charcoal and gun-metal inflected with hints of aubergine. The interplay of forms confers the suggestion of depth, perspective and movement that, in the words of Reinhardt’s contemporary, Fairfield Porter, “make the eyes rock” (L. Lippard, Ad Reinhardt, New York, 1981, p.90). As opposed to the energy and emotional sentimentality conveyed in the “action” paintings of his contemporaries, Reinhardt’s works emerge as quiet meditations on the nature of observation that convey, in a hushed tone, supreme confidence and beauty.
While this painting constitutes one of Reinhardt’s celebrated “black paintings” and proposes a patent flatness, uniformity and inertia upon a cursory viewing, it is, in reality, teeming with life, color and depth. Reinhardt’s simplification of painting to rudimentary formal elements naturally elicits comparisons to Malevich and his declaration of the “end of painting” through the creation of his Black Square work, Reinhardt’s conclusions appear anything but ultimate or terminating. Instead, they reinvigorated the medium through austerity and restraint, rather than grand gestures. He achieves this by reducing the composition to elemental forms of similar tonal values and degrees of saturation, thereby forcing the viewer to pause, in order to visually digest the intricacies of the work before them. Devoid of figuration or the gesturalism of Abstract Expressionism, the present lot offers a convincing argument for the merits of deferred gratification, for it takes time to truly appreciate the velvet glow of the blue blocks or the smokiness of the hemming bands or the density of texture expressed in the surface of the center.
Painting represents a stunning example from Reinhardt’s most iconic series, a series that was so revolutionary and dynamic that Alfred H. Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, declared: “Permit us to go on record: We believe that Reinhardt’s ‘Black’ paintings are among the memorable works of art produced in this country during the 1960s” (L. Lippard, ibid., p. 116). The work was executed at Reinhardt’s studio in downtown New York, evidenced by his inscription on the backingboard “732 Broadway,” capturing an exciting moment in the history of art, as well as the greater world. At the same time, it expresses a spiritual vitality that is immutable, contingent on neither time nor space, only on the beauty of “nothingness.”