Birthday: December 24, 1913
Died At Age: 53
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Born in: Buffalo
Famous as: Abstract Painter
Spouse/Ex-: Rita Ziprkowski
Died on: August 30, 1967
place of death: New York City
U.S. State: New Yorkers
Founder/Co-Founder: Artist's Club
education: Columbia University, National Academy of Design, New York University Institute of Fine Arts
Ad Reinhardt, best known for his black paintings, was an American abstract painter born in early twentieth century. Although excellent in studies, art was always his first love and he won many prizes while in school. Later he graduated from Columbia University with art history and began his career in the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. His initial works showed cubist influences and exhibited brightly colored hard-edged geometric designs. Later from 1940s, he started adopting rectilinear patterns of small abstract elements, resulting in more tender effect. Then from 1950s, he started concentrating on monochrome painting, slowly graduating into sternly cruciform black painting. Concurrently, he also produced a number of political cartoons and caricatured under varied pseudonyms for number of newspapers and magazines. A radical with far left leanings, he joined many protests. However, he always held that art should be created and interpreted on its own terms and coined the phrase ‘Art as Art’, as against ‘artists as artists’. Later he wrote and lectured extensively on fine arts. Unfortunately, he died at the age of fifty-three, before his full potential could be realized. His estate joined David Zwirner Gallery, New York in 2013.
Childhood & Early Life
Ad Reinhardt was born as Adolph Dietrich Friedrich Reinhardt on December 24, 1913, in Buffalo, New York into a working-class family of German-Russian immigrants. His father was a skilled worker in the garment trade and also a labor organizer. He had a brother named Edward.
Initially, they lived in the Riverside along the Niagara River, close to his extended family. In his childhood, he was especially close to his cousin Otto. Later, his father’s work took them to the New York City, where he started schooling.
While in grade school, he developed an interest in painting and won many prizes. As he entered high school, he started acting as the illustrator for the school magazine and also won several prizes. Apart from his interest in art, he was also a good student and did extremely well in academics.
After passing out from school, he received several scholarships to study arts in various colleges. Although his father wanted him to take that up and go into commercial art he felt that he had already learned enough techniques and going to art school would be futile.
Instead, he chose to study history of art. In 1931, on receiving full scholarship from the Columbia University he enrolled at Teacher’s College, an independent institution under the said university, for his undergraduate study. There he studied art history with Lithuanian-born scholar Meyer Shapiro.
Soon he began to contribute cartons and illustrations to The Columbian Jester, a college publication run by the students. Most of these works exhibited ‘a whiff of dash, gaiety and Art-Deco-Stork-club style’, prevalent during the Great Depression.
Later, he also indulged in political cartoons. Born to socialist parents, he had socialism ingrained in him. It was reawakened now that he came in contact with the left-wing student groups and became involved in their activities. His works repeatedly featured class, refracted through sex, alcohol and political attitude.
In 1936, Ad Reinhardt graduated from Columbia University. Thereafter, he joined American Artists School to train under Carl Holty, a German-American abstract painter, whose works were more hard-edged than most expressionist and Francis Crisis, whose style was associated with the American Precisionists.
Simultaneously, he also studied portraiture with Karl Anderson, whose oeuvre includes portraits and genre scenes, at National Academy of Design. Thus, Reinhardt imbibed wide variety of influences by the time he reached his mid twenties.
By the end of 1937, he knew what he wanted to create should be something modern, abstract as well as experimental. From now onwards, he started avoiding all kinds of naturalism, especially social realism in his art. He also became confident about his prospect in his chosen field.
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Career Before World War II
In 1936, soon after graduating from Columbia University, Ad Reinhardt was accredited as a painter by Burgoyne A. Diller. In the same year, he started his career in the easel division of the WPA Federal Art Project. Concurrently, he also worked as a freelance commercial artist.
In 1937, sponsored by his professor Carl Holty, he became a member of the American Abstract Artists and for the next ten years, he participated in number of exhibitions with them. Although he left AAA in 1947 he had always considered it to be an important event of his life.
At the WPA, he made friends with many would be members of the New York School. Among them were Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Stuart Davis. Another important associate of this period was Russell Right, for whom he created cartoons and exhibits for the 1939 New York World's Fair.
Reinhardt’s association with WPA ended in 1940. Thereafter, he worked freelance, taking up various projects such as making posters for the War Bond drive and artwork for the Office of War Information, painting murals for the Café Society, designing promotional materials for the Columbia Broadcasting System etc.
At the same time, he kept on painting in private. Until now, his works exhibited brightly colored hard-edged geometric designs. But from early 1940s, he started adopting rectilinear patterns of small abstract elements, which were evenly distributed over the canvas. Overall impact became much softer.
In 1942, he joined the staff of Picture Magazine, a liberal newspaper, published from New York City. During this period, he produced several thousand cartoons and illustrations. Most notable among them was the series of ‘How to Look at Art’.
His big chance came when on October 20, 1942 Peggy Guggenheim opened her ‘The Art of This Century Gallery’ in Manhattan. Reinhardt was one among the many young artists, who were invited to participate in group exhibitions.
In 1943, he had his first solo exhibition in the Artists Gallery in New York City. Thereafter, represented by Betty Persons, he participated in number of exhibitions at Wakefield Bookshop and Mortimer Brandt Gallery.
The association became stronger, when in 1944 Betty Person opened her gallery at 15 East 57th Street in Manhattan. Promoted by her, he now began participate regularly in her exhibitions.
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Reinhardt’s artistic career came to a temporary halt, when the United States joined the Second World War in 1945. He was drafted in the US Navy, where he served briefly aboard ship in Salerno Bay. As the war ended shortly after that, he was released in 1946.
Career After World War II
In 1946, after being released from war duties, Ad Reinhardt rejoined PM. At the same time, he enrolled at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts for his post graduate studies and resumed his association with Betty Parsons.
In 1947, he left his job at PM and accepted a teaching post at Brooklyn College, a position he held until his death. Concurrently, he also started holding yearly exhibition at Betty Parson’s Gallery (1946-1965) and also at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Manhattan.
However by early 1950s, his style underwent further change. He now began concentrating on monochrome paintings, in which he had squires and oblongs placed symmetrically against a background of similar color. Initially, he used red; but later switched to blue.
He took his monochrome paintings to a greater height when from 1954 he began to concentrate on black. Known as ‘black paintings’, these works mainly consisted of large interlocking rectangles done in various shades of black.
During this later period of his career, he also took up writing, commenting not only on his own works, but also on the works of his contemporaries, often inviting controversies. Many of his writings were later incorporated in a book entitled ‘Art as Art’ and published posthumously in 1991.
Apart from his regular job at Brooklyn College Reinhardt had also taught at the California School of Fine Arts, the University of Wyoming, Yale University and Hunter College, New York. In addition, he produced caricature art for many newspapers, magazines and periodicals, published from New York.
Ad Reinhardt is best known for his ‘black paintings’, created between 1954 and 1965. At the first glance, the canvasses seem to be painted simply black. But on closer look, one would find that they are composed of black and nearly black shades.
In an unpublished writing, he had indicated that these paintings were related more to monotonal Chinese paintings than to their western counterpart, consisting of light and dark. They have been interpreted differently; one of them being that through these paintings the artist seems to be asking if there is anything called absolute.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1953, Ad Reinhardt married Rita Ziprkowski. The couple had a daughter named Anna.
On August 30, 1967, while working in the studio, Reinhardt had a heart attack and died from it the same day. At that time, he was only 53 years old.
Today he is remembered as a prophetic figure in postwar abstract art and a major contributor to contemporary art of the mid-20th century.
Retrospectives of his signature-style abstract painting are now being held in well-known museums across the world. Among them are Museum of Modern Art, New York (1991); Guggenheim Museum New York, (2008); the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, Bottrop, Germany (2010-11); and the David Zwirner Gallery, New York (2013).