A title card for a viewing room featuring a work by Ad Reinhardt titled Abstract Painting, Blue, made in 1953.
A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1966. Photo by John Loengard.
 
 

“I don’t understand, in a painting, the love of anything except the love of painting itself.”

—Ad Reinhardt, 1950

An oil on canvas artwork by Ad Reinhardt, titled Abstract Painting, Blue, dated 1953.

Ad Reinhardt

Abstract Painting, Blue, 1953
Oil on canvas
30 x 30 inches (76.2 x 76.2 cm)
Framed: 32 x 32 inches (81.3 x 81.3 cm)

Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967) is among the most significant American artists of the twentieth century. His singular career bridges the history of geometric abstraction with minimalist and conceptual practices and continues to resonate today. 

Made in 1953, Abstract Painting, Blue rewards close looking, affirming Reinhardt not only as a pioneer in the optical and perceptual possibilities of painting, but also as a masterful colorist. 

A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1953. Photo by Walter Rosenblum.

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1953. Photo by Walter Rosenblum

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1953. Photo by Walter Rosenblum

Around 1950, Reinhardt began drastically paring down his compositions. Arriving at a reduced color palette of red, black, and blue, he explored the perceptual possibilities of each of these colors in separate series of canvases—a period he defined as: “Early-classical hieratical red, blue, black monochrome square-cross-beam symmetries of the early fifties.”

In Abstract Painting, Blue, a square canvas is overlaid with a single trisection, or cross, rendered in subtle tonal variations that are difficult to differentiate, only revealing themselves after focused observation. 

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ad Reinhardt, at Stable Gallery, New York, in 1965.

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt, Stable Gallery, New York, 1965

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt, Stable Gallery, New York, 1965

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ad Reinhardt, at Stable Gallery, New York, in 1965.

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt, Stable Gallery, New York, 1965

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt, Stable Gallery, New York, 1965

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ad Reinhardt, at Stable Gallery, New York, in 1965.

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt, Stable Gallery, New York, 1965

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt, Stable Gallery, New York, 1965

Referred to as “monochromes” by the artist and his contemporaries, Reinhardt’s blue paintings dynamically explore the perceptual play between flatness and depth, recession and projection, through nuanced variations of a single color. These works range in hue from cobalt blues and bright purples to Prussian ultramarine blues and emerald greens. In some canvases, contrasting colors are adjusted to equivalences of value, which, in Fairfield Porter’s phrase, “Make your eyes rock.”

A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1966. Photo by John Loengard.

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

“In 1951, when he began greying his color, minimizing contrasts, and organizing his surfaces more rigorously, a turning point of some kind was reached.… The rational exclusion of unnecessary elements had been foreshadowed in his writings. There was no ‘breakthrough,’ that being in itself a romantic concept with no place in an art as classical as Reinhardt’s. Each exhibition moved closer to monotone.”

—Lucy Lippard, in Ad Reinhardt: Paintings, 1966

An installation view of an exhibition titled Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2017.

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2017. Abstract Painting, Blue (1953) is pictured center.

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2017. Abstract Painting, Blue (1953) is pictured center.

“Reinhardt worked with each painting laid flat on a knee-high bench, circumnavigating the surface to paint it from different angles.… Remarkably, Reinhardt did not use pencil, tape, or a straightedge to mark out the divisions within each painting, preferring to work freehand. His lines follow the warp and weft of the canvas and mimic its tautness in their precision. The color is flat, cleaving to the surface instead of creating an illusion of depth.”

—Anna Lovatt, “BLUE IN ART IS BLUE” (unpublished essay), 2017

A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1966. Photo by John Loengard.

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1966. Photo by John Loengard.

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

“A square (neutral, shapeless) canvas … (not large, not small, sizeless) … one horizontal form negating one vertical form (formless, no top, no bottom, directionless).… A pure, abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting … transcendent, aware of nothing but Art.”

—Ad Reinhardt, 1950

A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1966. Photo by John Loengard.

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

“He produced the velvety surfaces of these works via a meticulous process of leaching oil from pigment, making it increasingly powdery rather than shiny or reflective. The resulting matte surfaces are necessarily extremely fragile, but fragility is an important part of the content of Reinhardt’s work. And despite his constant denial of content as part of totally abstract art, it is the poetic content of these profound and beautiful paintings that sets them apart and continues to move us.”

—Barbara Rose, Artforum, 2017

 
An installation view of an exhibition titled Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings, at David Zwirner, New York, in 2017.

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2017

Installation view, Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings, David Zwirner, New York, 2017

“Reinhardt makes a choice.… 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.”

—Nathlie Provosty, The Brooklyn Rail, 2017

 
 
A photo of Ad Reinhardt in his studio in 1966. Photo by John Loengard.

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

Ad Reinhardt in his studio, 1966. Photo by John Loengard

“To those horrified that we may take the mystery out of painting, we promise to keep the question of color quality a deep (bright) secret.”

—Ad Reinhardt, 1947

An installation view of a painting by Ad Reinhardt, titled Abstract Painting, blue, dated 1953.

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