Learning more about the period in which he worked is always a good thing. I am fascinated by how postwar and through the 1960s, New York grew into an international art capital. It's now hard to believe that early in Reinhardt's career, there was only small group of painters, most of them working in the village, and just a handful of galleries. That, however, drastically changed. It is easy both to yearn for the "good old days" of a recognizable community and reasonable art prices, and be impressed by how American artists came so quickly to center stage. Reinhardt was there for it all. He left a remarkable record of the change and his strong feelings and thoughts about it.
Also appealing about this visit was the chance it gave me to see links between Ad Reinhardt and the late painter Saul Lambert in whose East Village studio I now work. Reinhardt was one of Saul's teachers when Saul was a student at Brooklyn College.
The exhibition at Zwirner takes up three rooms. The first large room that you enter is chock full of his graphic work, on the walls and in two large cases. It includes political and art historical satire and commentary (with biting critique of both European fascism and American capitalism), essentially all of it presented as cartoons and a little collage. There are his marvelous drawings of trees through which he shows us "How to Look at Modern Art in America." Each leaf represents a contemporary painter, the many varied clusters of leaves are all supported by the roots and trunks that Reinhardt also labels. He graciously leaves viewers some blank leaves on which they might tag and locate their own favorite painters. Here is one of those trees.
The third and final room contains a set of Reinhardt's famous black paintings. These are magnificient. In each, Reinhardt has a special way of capturing light in the darkness and using various colors to create what we call black.
Now what about the links between Ad Reinhardt's work and that of Saul Lambert, whose spirit keeps me company in the studio? I would love to find a notebook in which Saul recorded his class notes and the painting ideas he was inspired to have by Reinhardt. Missing that, I can only make a couple of observations.
First, there are the words. In Saul's studio, one wall is covered by words that Saul composed or that he quoted from others. They include lists of names, not unlike the lists of names in several of Reinhardt's pieces.
But in the meantime, please make your comments here. All will be appreciated.