There is something mysterious, even mystical, about Ad Reinhardt's 60 x 60-inch square black canvases. Conceived for contemplation, they reveal themselves over time, writes Lynn Zelevansky, guest curator of the exhibition. Some of these famous black paintings, which are almost impossible to photograph and require the direct and slow presence of the viewer, are on display from October 15 to January 16 at the Madrid venue of the Fundación Juan March
. They form part of the first monographic exhibition of Ad Reinhardt in Spain, and one of the most thorough retrospectives in the history of Europe.
Ad Reinhardt (Buffalo, New York, 1913 New York, 1967) devoted his artistic endeavor to an increasingly radical abstraction. In parallel to his pictorial vocation, he was a prolific illustrator, essayist, and teacher, and developed an out-of-the-ordinary literary and pedagogical work that was combative and attentive to the ideological, political, and social issues of his time. Member of the New York School First Generation, he maintained a strict dichotomy between art and life, a division that is mirrored by the exhibition, which, according to Manuel Fontán, curator of the exhibition, and Museum and Exhibition Director of the Foundation, aims to be a radical exhibition about a radical artist.
The subtitle Art Is Art, and Everything Else Is Everything Else refers to Reinhardt's claim on the nature of art. Accordingly, to display his will to divide life and art into two different realms, both, the exhibition, and the catalog consist of two indivisible but diverse sections. The first section, Art Is Art... designed as a white block, includes 47 paintings and drawings. It was designed to exclusively present Reinhardts art in a chronological order, progressing from the abstraction of the 20th century to a radical abandonment of all external styles and influences. The second section, entitled
And Everything Else Is Everything Else the black room, presents 71 books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, and other documentary materials from his work as a teacher, illustrator, essayist, and cartoonist.
The curatorial team Lynn Zelevansky, Manuel Fontán del Junco and María Toledo Gutiérrez, Exhibition Project Manager of the Foundation divided the exhibition to present, on one hand, a non-interfering contemplation of Reinhardt's artworks, and, on the other hand, a narrative about the captivating life story of the artist.
Hence, the first section of the exhibition exhibits a selection of numbered artworks. The exhibit starts by his red and blue paintings, and ends with his black paintings, which he did since 1954, and to which he has devoted himself since 1960 using a square format of 60 x 60 inches, explained María Toledo at the press conference. What Reinhardt wanted, said Lynn Zelevansky, was to create paintings with which it is compulsory to maintain a certain relationship; the spectator needs to spend time in front of these art pieces to appreciate them. By the end of his career, the black paintings managed to fully achieve that challenge. According to the guest curator, these works are at the edge of vision.
Consequently, in a separate space from that of his paintings, the second section displays other fundamental facets of Reinhardt's activity. Titled
Everything Else Is Everything Else, it completes the first part of the exhibit. It is here where all the noise is. It shows the other activity to which he dedicated himself to earn a living and to be able to paint with the freedom with which he did, explained María Toledo. We intentionally gave the same exhibition two different entrances. This responds to what Reinhardt would have liked: to separate art from life, she pointed out. The black room has been divided into six subsections with titles that refer to the artists own sayings and ventures, some examples are Looking is not as easy as it seems or Words in art are words. Each of the subtitles allow the public to appreciate what Reinhardt did when he was not painting: his illustrations for ideologically committed publications, commercial magazines, and for the progressive newspaper PM, his criticism of certain museum and institutions, or his work as a cartoonist in magazines such as ARTnews, Trans/formation, and Art d'aujourd'hui.
This section also includes a series of ironic comic strips on art history and theory entitled How to Look, that were published in the newspaper PM. Moreover, the slides that Reinhardt used in his classes and lectures form part of the exhibition. The public will also find some of his letters, postcards, and handwritten notes on art.
Why Ad Reinhardt? Manuel Fontán del Junco explained at the press conference that there are several reasons. "First, because there was a retrospective in 1991, and its organizers thought it would be the last one. Before that, there was one at the Staatsgalery in Stuttgart in 1985. In other words, it had been more than 40 years since the last Ad Reinhardt exhibition in Europe, and never in Spain. Furthermore, in recent years, the foundation has followed a line based on artists who, perhaps, are not that widely known, they are rather what in cinema is called secondary luxury, and I believe Ad Reinhardt is one of them, along with some other exhibitions such the Josef Albers or Lyonel Feininger restrospective, artists who have not even been exhibited in our country, or even Europe, he sums up.
The catalog of the exhibition available in Spanish and English comprises two volumes. The publication offers an insightful look into the life and work of Ad Reinhardt. It includes the more-than-fifty artworks on display, a collection of documentary material and more than 470 illustrations and texts by the artist. Essays by the guest curator of the exhibition and Reinhardt's connoisseur, Lynn Zelevansky, and other specialists such as Alex Bacon, Pepe Karmel, Prudence Peiffer form part of the publication. Moreover, essays by María Toledo Gutiérrez and Miguel Peña Méndez (Universidad de Granada) have been included, as well as texts by two renowned Spanish artists, Jordi Teixidor and José María Yturralde, whose artistic work has been greatly influenced by the American artist. The catalog has been complemented by twenty two Ad Reinhardts writings, translated, and edited by Manuel Fontán del Junco and María Toledo.
The catalog also includes a satirical timeline by Reinhardt himself that depicts his own memories and life choices. In it, the painter humorously describes some of the milestones of his life story along with important events from his own historical context. The delightful recount allows the public to understand from a broader perspective some important details of his biography and background: he was born in 1913, the year Malevich painted his first work of geometric abstraction; in 1951, a year after his protest with The Irascibles at the Metropolitan Museum for its stance against avant-garde art, was the year in which Matisse started cutting out colored paper; in 1960, the year in which France detonated a nuclear bomb, Reinhardt wrote about Buddha images.