AD REINHARDT (1913-1967)
AD REINHARDT (1913-1967)
AD REINHARDT (1913-1967)
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The Collection of Margo Leavin
AD REINHARDT (1913-1967)

Untitled

Details
AD REINHARDT (1913-1967)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Ad Reinhardt 1946' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas, in artist's frame
50 1⁄2 x 20 5⁄8 in. (128.3 x 52.4 cm.)
Painted in 1946.
Provenance
Private collection, acquired directly from the artist
Morris Dorsky, New York
Jeffrey Hoffeld & Company, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, Ad Reinhardt: Paintings 1937 - 1952, February-March 1984.
Ann Arbor, University of Michigan and Austin, University of Texas, Color Forum, February-April 1972, p. 35 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

“Art-as-art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.”
– Ad Reinhardt

One of the unequivocal forefathers of Minimalism, Ad Reinhardt’s career was marked by a reductive investigation into the very roots of painting. Striving toward a more harmonious interplay between form, color, and material, he successfully traversed the divide between Abstract Expressionism and the idea-based movements to come. Untitled is a striking early example of the artist’s counter-narrative to the dominant mode of gestural abstraction championed by artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock in New York in the mid-twentieth century. Evolving from an indebtedness to the grids of Piet Mondrian, Reinhardt’s exploration of geometric forms diverged from his predecessor as he purposefully obliterated any semblance of order and internal structure in favor of a more all-encompassing composition. The artist took his inquiries seriously, proclaiming, “Art-as-art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art.” (A. Reinhardt, “Art as Art”, Art International, VI, no. 10, December 1962). Ever searching for a more absolute definition of his own practice, Reinhardt reduced and refined his canvases until they arrived at the nexus of formal representation and material purity.
Painted in a vertical orientation that foreshadows some of his later Black Paintings, Untitled is a canvas bursting with visual information. True to Reinhardt’s insistence on a composition’s need to extend from edge to edge, there is no focal element with which to anchor our gaze. Instead, a dense bricolage of varying strokes creates an absorptive textural element that fills the field of vision. Being an early work, the current example is a testament to the artist’s journey from Abstract Expressionism into his dynamic dark canvases of later years. Here the artist’s hand is still visible as he applies burnt red, faded orange, and bone white over a construction of black voids separated by a haze of mauve. Though reminiscent of the geometric aesthetic of Bauhaus artists including Paul Klee, here there is no diagrammatic delineation between each of the painted areas, and the melding of the different colored zones creates a fluid read of the entire work. As his oeuvre progressed, Reinhardt further highlighted this singularity, noting, “The one standard in art is oneness and fineness, rightness and purity, abstractness and evanescence. The one thing to say about art is its breathlessness, lifelessness, deathlessness, contentlessness, formlessness, spacelessness and timelessness. This is always the end of art” (A. Reinhardt, quoted in Ad Reinhardt: Paintings, exh. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, 1966, p. 10). Perhaps more than any other artist in the twentieth-century, Reinhardt continuously pushed toward an idea of painting that was self-reliant and more perfectly reflected art as something in and of itself, not in service to any external force.
Following World War II, the first sincerely global art movement occurred as the development of abstraction took hold across the world. Artists reacted to a convergence of cultures and ideas in the wake of the conflict. Examining the formal aspects inherent to the traditional modes of painting, many invoked emotional or structural readings that stemmed from a history of representation. Taking inspiration from Malevich’s radical non-representational vocabulary, Reinhardt eschews these aspects, seeking to create a totally new kind of work that diverged rebelliously from any previous examples. "Through the 40s, Reinhardt’s paintings distinguished themselves from European abstraction through a total occupation with surface rather than readable formal structure, without compositional elements that outweigh one another. The paintings were organized by signs, either of a geometric order, of small rectangles of color fitting into one another, or of a blurred and less clearly delimited order, creating together the characteristics of ‘all-over’ painting" (A. Pacqument in Ad Reinhardt, exh. cat. Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, 1973). Doing away with visual juxtapositions that sought to establish a more traditional sense of order, canvases like Untitled rely on an immersive experience of the materials and their existence in front of the viewer. Similar to Marcel Duchamp’s deconstruction of the human form in Nude Descending a Staircase - the artist’s study of movement through expressive and imperfect geometries - Reinhardt explodes order onto the canvas, sharpening and blurring lines throughout to challenge its surface.
Born in Buffalo, NY, Reinhardt studied art history at Columbia University while also taking painting classes. He continued to take art courses after graduation and committed his life to learning as much as he could about the processes, structures, and history of his art form. In the 1940s, he found his place within the burgeoning New York City scene and was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group. Participating in group exhibitions at the Peggy Guggenheim gallery early on, he quickly became a fixture of the art world. Despite his success, Reinhardt continuously sought to better his own practice, never once resting on his laurels. Heavily influenced by the study of Asian art and Zen philosophies, the artist noted that he was struck by “its timelessness, its monotony, its inaction, its detachment, its expressionlessness, its clarity, its quietness, its dignity, its negativity” (A. Reinhardt, quoted in M. Hatch, “Learning about Asian Art from Ad Reinhardt”, in The Brooklyn Rail, January 16, 2014). Searching for a more self-determined mode of painting, his canvases became increasingly detached from the world around them. Gradually pushing out any reference to the artist’s hand, they approached a level of transcendence that provided a conceptual bridge between the major creative movements of the early twentieth century and the breakthrough artists of the 1960s and beyond.

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