The title caption is inscribed on the back of the painting in Reinhardt's own hand, "Abstract Painting Number 87."
Despite Reinhardts own celebrations of timelessness, critics recognized the importance of time to looking at his paintings. It takes time for the subtle differences of the black paintings in particular to emerge.
At some time in the 80s I gave a lecture about American painting between the world wars at a space the Whitney Museum had on Wall Street, where they put on shows and had people come and give talks at lunchtime.
I was baffled. I saw only black paintings. I could not figure out the enthusiasm. That worried me, because I knew that others were seeing something in those pictures which I did not.
The stunning extremism of Reinhardts late work signifies a radical attenuation of the pictorial and material means of post-Cubist abstraction.
What I like best about Ad Reinhardt’s polychromatic black paintings is how they turn me on.
In Chapter 42 of Moby Dick, Ishmael arrives by apprehensive steps at a disquieting thought: the whiteness of the whale makes tangible the deathly void that lurks beneath the worlds appearances.
Like a procession of Japanese monks with black robes and shaven heads, the 13 late paintings by Ad Reinhardt circle a large white room at David Zwirner Gallery.
The black paintings that left Reinhardt’s studio in the final six years of his career maintained a fragile material and visual equilibrium, easily marred by routine handling that would leave traditionally painted canvas unharmed.
What everybody knows about Ad Reinhardt, even if they know nothing else: his black paintings take a long time to see.
I came to the 60s late, and from out of town. So The Jewish Museum’s Toward a New Abstraction and the Modern’s “Americans 1963,” both of which opened in the spring of 1963, were news to me.
Did Reinhardt really believe that the art he called for could exist, that the museum he called for could exist, that the academy he called for could exist?
If Reinhardt’s black paintings are often difficult to grasp as a spectator, the surface of these paintings are even more problematic for the conservator whose mandate is to maintain their pristine quality.
Expressionism and surrealism is always fake, art as something else is always fake, Reinhardt wrote, but his abstract art is paradoxically and subliminally expressionistic and surrealistic, which doesnt make it fake.
I met Ad Reinhardt in 1962, after returning from a Fulbright in Spain. Seeing Ads work, and spending time with him, was significant to the development of my early career.
How to get ahead and keep one's head above hot water in the art whirl.
Published in Prophetic Voices: Ideas and Words on Revolution. Ed. Ned OGorman (New York: Random House, 1969).
The next revolution in art will be the same, old, one revolution.