An early chapter from Ad Reinhardt’s career is well displayed at the Pace Gallery in midtown Manhattan. Consisting predominately of gouaches and some collages and small oils, all the work was made between 1935 and 1945 and well before Reinhardt began to make the iconic black monochromes in the late 50s that continued until the time of his death. Unlike the later severity of the ‘art-as-art’ writings, satirical cartoons and ‘last possible paintings’, the work in this exhibition shows a younger, energetic artist casting about for ideas. The thirties and forties were a ripe time in American art. Suffering from the depression, artists of the period grappled with European Modernism that had been imported by Steiglitz in the earlier part of the century. Like many artists of his generation, Reinhardt worked on the WPA (Works Progress Administration) from 1936-1940, the period covered by the current exhibition. The WPA was a short lived, improbably glorious experiment put in place by Roosevelt to put struggling artists to work, allowing many painters, sculptors and printmakers the possibility of working for the first time solely in their studios. During this time Reinhardt also joined and exhibited with the American Abstract Artists (AAA), a group of New York painters who wanted to promote their own American response to European Modernism, especially the work of Mondrian. Rounding out this activity, in 1944 Reinhardt joined the Navy and sailed in the Pacific, never seeing combat, but having enough time to make several live wire drawings of ships pulling into port.
Reinhardt’s early work, most of which was hidden in storage until recently, affords an opportunity to see an unformed artist make the transitional fledgling steps into maturity. Borrowing the popular language of his day, biomorphic abstraction, automatic drawing, globular shapes and bright color, Reinhardt’s work displays energy and the seeds for his later paintings. Lacking the piston steel focus of his later monochromes, the work here gives the viewer a glimpse into the messy development every serious artist travels towards an earned and vigorous studio practice. Resembling myriads of other paintings from the era, the work still acts as a mustard seed of the burgeoning consciousness of one of the high priests of American Modernism.
Untitled, 1938, 4-3/8" x 5-5/16" gouache on board.
Untitled, 1938, 8-3/16" x 10-5/8"gouache on board.
Untitled, 1941, paper collage, 11 x 17-1/2" (29.2 x 44.5 cm)
|Untitled, 1940, 10" x 13-1/8," gouache on board|