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Ad Reinhardt

Take time with Ad Reinhardt's black canvases and discover the rewards of contemplation. To learn more and create your own works, take our online course Materials and Techniques of Postwar Abstract Painting. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

Ann: Where as many of the abstract expressionist artists began as figurative painters, Ad Reindhart began as a geometric painter. Very much following in the footsteps like many American artists at that time of Piet Mondrian and the geometric, almost rhythmic patterns of his early work. He limited his palette to a very few select colors: white, red, blue and ultimately by the end of the 50s black. A color to which he devoted himself exclusively through up until his death at the end of his 60s. The sensibility of his pictures is a mystical one. Like most of the abstract expressionist painters there's no figures or any indication of landscape that the viewer can connect to. Instead it's really the painting itself, the making of the painting and perhaps even more important the perception of the painting that matters to Reinhardt. With the black paintings especially, his interests are very clear. When you first look at a black square painting by Reinhardt you really just see a black square. But when you continue to focus and look at it a little while longer what you'll see emerging from the depths of that black surface is a cross going from top to bottom and side to side in the center of the canvass. In which you can read different colors embedded in that black and emerging through the black, rewarding the viewer who takes the time to really look and really be patient with the picture. For all of the abstract expressionists, this is a key priority. They're making paintings that take time to unfold. They're making paintings that can't be glanced at or walked passed quickly. In this way the abstract expressionists I think thought of their works almost as the holders of secrets. One can initiate one's self into those secrets without having to say any magic password or anything like that, but just by spending time. For those Philistines, the abstract expressionists would have said who did not even know enough or care enough to spend the time. They would walk right by these canvasses with no idea of what treasures lay within them. I think that just pleased these artists totally fine. Their work was made to communicate with a certain level of like-minded or like-spirited viewers who were ready for what they were providing them. If those viewers had to do something to prove it like stand in front of the painting a little while, all the better.