1943, the year Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Tehran to discuss their war strategy, Ad Reinhardt made a deep blue and green oil painting that is the earliest work in this Zwirner Gallery exhibition. The piece is revealing. An inclination towards sensation is already out front, yet his brush speed, brushstroke, and composition are elbowing in the rear, oscillating between the emotional tenor of the times and the artist’s temperament. The times were fast and hot—the temperament thoughtful, and cool. Their combination was a collision, though not without harmony.
In 1943 Mondrian finished Broadway Boogie Woogie. Out front in this painting is its rhythm. Gradually, the painting slows down and its intellectual colors and space relationships are tuned, finer and finer. In fact, look carefully and the entire painting becomes an astonishing mind, its innumerable decisions flickering, rippling, almost breathing across its surface. There is no immediacy, or if there is, it’s the immediacy of duration. The painting is a world created.
Reinhardt makes a choice. (Room two of the gallery, 1951 onward.) He reconfigures visual and compositional speed into vibration: he scales down the faster strokes and pulls them in, like current in a light bulb; he builds up symmetrical compositions, like vertebrae in a spine. The image is pre-determined to make way for the real royalty: color. Each painting is engorged with rich, variant violet-blues that weave and pump. Occasionally image-adjustments are visible, but usually the application is steady, without a trace. No time and no space, no joining the lines of thought: only presence. The painting is world negating.