Last Paintings. Ad Reinhardt is the first European exhibition of the American artist for more than 25 years. In the Beginning is the End was for him at once a programmatic statement and equally a rejection of the traditional understanding of painting. With his so-called black paintings which he himself describes as the ultimate paintings that can be made, he takes up an extreme position which has been a challenge to painting ever since. Painted with supreme skill, and extraordinarily subtle in the coloration, his paintings only reveal themselves gradually. What first looks like monochrome black appears when closely observed as a color spectrum of blue, red, yellow, and intermediate shades.
Ad Reinhardt is one of the most mysterious figures in the art of the 20th century. The Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop
is showing some 35 works that demonstrate the process by which his art matures and finally adopts one of the most radical positions in the history of art.
Reinhardts work was abstract from the beginning. His pictures do not seek to tell anything; they exist for themselves alone and have no meaning beyond the painted surface.
Reinhardts painting is defined at an early stage by geometrical forms and a wealth of color, and from about 1950 he embarks on the path that will in the end lead to his dark paintings: a pattern of large fields in a uniform shade now determines the structure of his pictures. The blue and red paintings in which squares and rectangles can still be clearly recognized though the colors of the single elements are chromatically so close to one another that it is the color and not the form that defines the work.
About 1953 the first black paintings appear, in which all trace of color seems to be expunged. The black in these paintings is simulated by greenish, reddish and bluish shades which form a matt surface that absorbs light. The only variations are now in the refined shading of the black and in changes between square and vertical formats. Reinhardt then in 1960 takes a fundamental decision: from that point on his pictures are only black and are painted exclusively on 5 foot by 5 foot (157.5 cm) canvases which are divided into nine identical large squares. These pictures constitute the essence of his art. Color and form are taken to the edge of dissolution. At the same time their almost painful subtlety offers the viewer an enriching experience.
The Last Paintings exhibition not only shows works by Ad Reinhardt that are rarely exhibited in public, it also looks at Reinhardts encounter with Josef Albers. Both artists knew one another from the late 1930s and they were bound by lifelong mutual respect. In 1952/53 Albers offered his younger colleague a guest professorship at Yale University. There are obvious affinities between the picture concepts of the two painters: in their attempts to achieve formal simplicity and stress color as elements in a visual language.