Ad Reinhardt, Composition in Black
Listed at dart.fine-art.com for $200.oo. Described under media types as a lithograph. Then in another spot as a serigraph. Published in Amsterdam 1973. Ad Reinhardt died on August 30, 1967.
We’re left to wonder how many prints are in the edition and who authorized it. Unless he was directing as a ghost, Reinhardt had nothing to say about it’s quality or whether it was approved to print. Welcome to the wonderful world of the contemporary art bubble.
I’m busily rereading a copy of Frances Stonor Saunders’ The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, a must-read for anyone interested in the history of American painting in the 1940s and 1950s. I’d also recommend parenthetically, her excellent The Devil’s Broker: Seeking Gold, God and Glory in Fourteenth-Century Italy for those interested in cultural history at the dawn of the Renaissance. Both books are wonderfully original and brilliantly researched and written.
At the outset of commenting on the connection between New York School painting and the CIA I’m pulling this quote from the book, which I agree with and serves as my point of view here:
It is hard to sustain the argument that the abstract expressionists merely “happened to be painting in the cold war not for the cold war.” Their own statements, and, in some cases, political allegiances, cannot be reduced to the political history in which it was situated. Abstract Expressionism, like jazz, was–is–a creative phenomenon existing independently and even, yes, triumphantly, apart from the political use which was made of it.
The only amendment to this passage is that “Abstract Expressionists” doesn’t include every single one of the abstract painters existing in NYC at the time.
I pull this next quote from the same book :
Ad Reinhardt was the only abstract expressionist who continued to cleave to the left, and as such he was all but ignored by the official art world until the 1960s. This left him in a perfect position to point out the inconsistencies in the lives and art of his former friends, … whose group photos like “The Irascibles” of 1950 had been replaced by features in Vogue Magazine showing these angry young men looking more like the stockbrokers who listed them as”speculative or “growth” painters, and reported a market for Abstract Expressionism “boiling ” with activity. Reinhardt roundly condemned his fellow artists for succumbing to greed and ambition. He called Rothko a “Vogue Magazine cold-water flat-fauve” and Pollock a “Harpers Bazaar bum”. Barnett Newmann was “the avant-garde huckster-handicraftsman and educational shopkeeper.” And the “holy-roller explainer-entertainer in residence”… Reinhardt didn’t stop there. He said that a museum should be “a treasure house and tomb, not a counting house or amusement center.” He compared art criticism to “pigeon droolings” and ridiculed Greenberg as a Dictator-Pope. Reinhardt was the only abstract expressionist to participate in the march on Washington for black rights in August 1963.
I recall Reinhardt’s derisory comment that “sculptures are what I bump into when I’m stepping back to look at a painting.” I wonder if he at any time regretted his slashing remark about Rothko or would have amended it if he’d been alive when Rothko took his own life in 1970. Also interesting is the characterization of Greenberg, echoing the ecclesiastical status applied to Andre Breton.