Adolph Frederick “Ad” Reinhardt (Buffalo, December 24, 1913 – New York, August 30, 1967) was an abstract painter active in New York beginning in 1930 and continuing through the 1960s. He was a member of the American Abstract Artists and was part of the movement centered at the Betty Parsons Gallery, which became known as abstract expressionism. He was also a member of The Club, the meeting place for New York School abstract expressionist artists during the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote and lectured extensively on art and was an influence on conceptual art, minimalist art, and monochrome painting. Most famous for his “black” or “definitive” paintings, he claimed to be painting the “last paintings” that anyone can paint. He believed in a philosophy of art that he called Art-as-Art and used his writing and satirical cartoons to defend abstract art and against what he described as “the practices of artists-as-artists of ill repute.”
Reinhardt was born in Buffalo, New York, and lived with his family in the Riverside section along the Niagara River. His cousin Otto and he were close, as was his extended family, but work brought his father to New York City. He later studied art history at Columbia College at Columbia University, where he was close friends with Robert Lax and Thomas Merton. All three developed similar concepts of simplicity in different directions. Reinhardt considered himself a painter from an early age and began winning awards for painting in elementary and high school. Feeling that he had already acquired all the technical skills in high school, he turned down scholarships to art schools and accepted a full scholarship to Columbia University, which he attended from 1931 to 1935. He took painting classes as an undergraduate at Teachers College at Columbia and after graduation began studying painting with Carl Holty and Francis Criss at the American Artists School, while simultaneously studying portraiture at the National Academy of Design under Karl Anderson.
Upon graduating from college, he was credentialed as a painter by Burgoyne Diller, which allowed him to work from 1936 until 1940 for the WPA Federal Art Project, easel division. Sponsored by Holty, he became a member of the American Abstract Artists group, with whom he exhibited for the next decade. Reinhardt described his association with the group as “one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.” He participated in group shows at the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery and held his first one-man show at the Artists Gallery in 1943. He then went on to be represented by Betty Parsons, exhibiting first at Wakefield Bookshop, Mortimer Brandt Gallery, and then when Parsons opened her own gallery on 57th Street. Reinhardt held regular annual solo exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery, beginning in 1946. He was involved in the 1940 protest against MoMA, designing the flyer that asked How modern is the Museum of Modern Art? His work was regularly exhibited throughout the 1940s and 1950s in the annual Exhibitions held at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He was also part of the protest against the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950, which became known as “The Irascibles”.
Having completed his studies at New York University”s Institute of Fine Arts, Reinhardt became a professor at Brooklyn College in 1947 and taught there until his death in 1967. He also taught at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, the University of Wyoming, Yale University, and Hunter College in New York City.
Ad Reinhardt Estate is represented by David Zwirner Gallery, New York.
Reinhardt”s early exhibited paintings avoided representation, but showed a steady progression away from external objects and references. His work progressed from compositions of geometric shapes in the 1940s to works in different shades of the same color (all red, all blue, all white) in the 1950s. Reinhardt is best known for his so-called “black” paintings of the 1960s, which at first glance appear to be simply canvases painted black, but are actually composed of black and almost black tones. Among many other suggestions, these paintings ask whether there might be something absolute, even in black, that some viewers might not consider a color.
In 1967, he contributed one of 17 signed prints that comprised the portfolio Artists and Writers Protest in Vietnam, organized by the group Artists and Writers Protest. Reinhardt”s lithograph, known as “No War” from its first two words of text, shows both sides of a postcard addressed to “War Chief, Washington, DCUSA” with a list of 34 demands that include “no napalm” no bombing “, no poverty”, no war art “and admonitions concerning art itself,” no art in war “and” no art in war “.
His writing includes commentary on his own work and that of his contemporaries. His concise wit, sharp focus, and sense of abstraction make interesting reading even for those who have not seen his paintings. Like his paintings, his writing remains controversial decades after his composition. Many of his writings are collected in Art as Art, edited by Barbara Rose, University of California Press, 1991.
Reinhardt joined the PM staff in 1942 and worked full time at this daily newspaper until 1947, with time depleted while being drafted for active duty in the U.S. Navy. While at PM he produced several thousand cartoons and illustrations, most notably the famous and widely reproduced Look at Art series. Reinhardt also illustrated the highly influential and controversial pamphlet Races of Mankind (1943) originally intended for distribution to the U.S. Army, but after being subsequently banned it sold close to a million copies. He also illustrated the children”s book A Good Man and His Good Wife. While attending Columbia University, he created many covers and illustrations for the humor magazine Jester and was its editor in its last year (1934-1935). In 1940 he was the designer of “The Chelsea Document,” a public exhibition of five 4×8 foot panels. Other commercial art work was done “for patrons as varied as the Brooklyn Dodgers, Glamour magazine, the CIO, Macy”s, the New York Times, the National Soviet-American Friendship Council, The Book and Magazine Guild, the American Jewish Labor Council, New Masses, the Saturday Evening Post, Ice Cream World, and Listen magazine. He has illustrated many books such as Who”s Who at the Zoo.