Ad Reinhardt

Abstract Painting

Not on view



Oil on linen

Overall: 60 × 60 1/8in. (152.4 × 152.7 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Purchase, with funds from The Lauder Foundation, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Fund

Rights and reproductions
©Estate of Ad Reinhardt/Artists Rights Society (ARS)

The long gestation of Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting reveals the extent of the artist’s notorious perfectionism; he only considered the canvas (begun in 1960) finished in 1966, the year of his important retrospective exhibition at The Jewish Museum in New York. What at first appears to be an unmodulated, all-black square reveals its tonal nuances and somber variations only after sustained, attentive viewing. The field of color optically separates into underlying rectilinear divisions, which differ in value, hue, and luster in such small increments that the transitions from one to the next are almost imperceptible. Its exquisite subtleties are mostly lost in reproduction—as Reinhardt knew they would be; the only viable experience, he felt, was in contemplating the actual painting. The artist painted only black-on-black works between 1953 and his death in 1967—a total of twenty-five of them. He wanted to create “the last paintings anyone can paint,” he said, and described his project in 1961 as “a pure, abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting.”    


  • An Incomplete History of Protest, Spanish

    Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1960-1966

    Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1960-1966


    David Breslin: Me llamo David Breslin. Soy el Curador Familia DeMartini y Director de la Colección aquí en el Whitney.

    Ad Reinhardt es un artista conocido principalmente por sus pinturas abstractas. Desde principios de los años cincuenta, comenzó a crear obras de arte que, a primera vista, solo parecen un campo de color negro; sin embargo, Ad Reinhardt era un artista profundamente comprometido con cuestiones políticas. En las décadas de 1930 y 1940, dibujó caricaturas satíricas para periódicos y revistas de izquierda. Parte de la idea de incluir una de las pinturas negras de Reinhardt fue pensar en artistas conocidos por sus obras de estudio, o sus pinturas, que, en apariencia, no son políticas. ¿Cómo podríamos considerar que esas obras han tenido mensajes políticos, en distintos momentos?

    Así pues, para estas pinturas que comenzó en 1953 y en las que trabajó hasta su muerte en 1967, Reinhardt intentó eliminar casi todo aquello que fuera superfluo. Y tiene esta grandiosa serie de declaraciones en las que habla de las obras por lo que no son o lo que no tienen. Las llamó neutrales y sin forma, no grandes. Y cuando uno lee esta serie de “noes”, de “sines” o de “ausencias”, también lo ve al artista ensayando la idea de la negación o la resistencia. Resistencia al estatus quo. Resistencia a la historia de la pintura. Resistencia a los estándares de la época. En una sala en la que pensamos de qué manera veían la resistencia los distintos artistas del momento, nos pareció interesante, si no crucial, incluir la abstracción en ese argumento y pensar en Reinhardt en ese contexto.

  • America Is Hard to See

    Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1960–66

    Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1960–66


    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.

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