October 9, 2016


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Lot 68: Ad Reinhardt

Lot 68: Ad Reinhardt

Abstract Painting

Oil on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated frame verso; retains William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center exhibition label frame verso
Canvas: 24" x 20"; Frame: 24.5" x 20.5"
Together with photocopy of exhibition catalogue
Provenance: Private Collection, La Jolla, California (acquired directly from the artist, c. 1966);
Private Collection, Rancho Mirage, California (acquired directly from the above)
Exhibited: "Distinguished University Artists," William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center, UNC, Chapel Hill, April 2-May 2, 1965
Literature: Distinguished University Artists. William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center exh. cat. 1965. 13.
Estimate: $180,000 - $250,000
Price Realized: $180,000
Inventory Id: 23067

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One of the 20th century's most iconoclastic artists, Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) devoted himself to the pursuit of pure abstraction. Reinhardt is best known for his all-black or "ultimate" paintings, on which he focused during the last ten years of his career. Reinhardt jokingly described these works as "the last paintings that anyone can make," knowing all the while that he would continue to produce them. Rather than denoting the end point of art, these works represented the myriad possibilities available within a seemingly limited palette. The artist was deeply influenced by early 20th century abstraction, citing Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian as particular sources of inspiration. In the late 1930s Reinhardt 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. Reinhardt's 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.

During his early years, Reinhardt became involved in radical politics and worked as a cartoonist for left-leaning publications. A polemical tone suffused much of Reinhardt's lectures and writings, which adopted a defiantly anti-establishment approach to the art world. For Reinhardt, abstraction represented an ethical decision in a world increasingly dominated by commercialism. Reinhardt railed against "the careerist racket," critiquing the institutions that lauded the importance of Abstract Expressionists who were working in a vein that Reinhardt believed had already been established by earlier generations of abstract artists. Instead, Reinhardt set himself apart by traveling extensively through Asia and the Middle East, where he studied Islamic art, Buddhist culture, and prehistoric architecture. His experiences 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. Richard Serra described Reinhardt as "a moral barometer," whereas for Sol LeWitt,
"(h)-is art really became the key to my thinking." 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.

Abstract Painting, created in 1958, makes clear Reinhardt's unerring commitment to pure form. An early example of his famed black paintings, this work is in fact made up of multiple shades–what Robert Storr referred to as "a full spectrum (...) in the lowest possible tonal register." Nine distinct sections can be seen, forming a cruciform shape in the center rendered in minute strokes. Abstract Painting is intensely rigorous and Reinhardt undertook lengthy preparations for these black paintings, making diagrammatic sketches in advance. To achieve the matte, powdered finish of his paintings, Reinhardt would leave the oil paints sitting out for weeks at a time such that the oil would separate from the pigment and rise to the top, at which point he would pour it away to create a concentrated paint. As the light changes, so too does the appearance of the painting, which comes to reveal its 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, Abstract Painting refuses interpretation and attests to the autonomy of art.

Phillips, Harlan. "Interview with Ad Reinhardt." Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institute, c. 1964. Web. 17 Aug. 2016. Storr, Robert. "Curator Robert Storr on Ad Reinhardt at David Zwirner, New York." Filmed (9 Nov. 2013). YouTube Video, 34:46. Posted (12 Nov. 2013). Web. 17 Aug. 2016. Cotter, Holland. "An Abstraction Shaped by Wounded Ideals." New York Times. 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Aug. 2016. Reinhardt, Ad. "Black as Symbol and Concept." Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt. New York: Viking Press, 1975. Print.