America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

602Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1960–66


Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967) _Abstract Painting, Number 33_, 1963, Oil on linen, 60 1/8 × 60 1/8 in. (152.7 × 152.7 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of Fred Mueller 80.33 © Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

NARRATOR: At first glance, this painting by Ad Reinhardt looks like a field of solid black. On closer inspection, you can see that there are subtle variations of tone. After 1953, Reinhardt made only black canvases. His simple, meditative works are the antithesis of the action paintings of the Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock. 

Contemporary artist Byron Kim talks about Reinhardt’s work:

BYRON KIM: Often I’m surprised and overwhelmed by how beautiful they are. . . And I love Reinhardt’s black paintings more probably than any other artwork that I’ve come across. I think he meant them to be contentless. So he really wanted them to be nothing. So what happens when, you know, nobody wants to accept that something is about nothing, or that art is only about art. So once you say that, then people inevitably start to relate these paintings to something, or try to make them metaphysical, try to relate them to something outside of the painting somehow. You don’t know what you’re looking at. And so they don’t look like anything.

The thing that makes Reinhardt interesting to me is that he was deadly serious and it was all a big joke at the same time. But you know, you don’t get the humor in the black paintings. But to me, they’re really funny because they’re exactly that kind of humor, that kind of deadpan humor, that’s not knee-slapping humor, but because it isn’t, it’s sort of more funny to me. I’m laughing inside my brain.