In the early 40s, Ad Reinhardt joins the AAA, the group of American Abstract Artists, informally known as “the irascible”. They all lived in New York and met regularly to discuss the scope of the new movement. In these meetings, Reinhardt knows characters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.
The group argued that the source of inspiration for the artist should be his own unconscious. And, therefore, the painting should be automatic and spontaneous. In his early work, Reinhardt, in line with the movement, also abstracted from reality, and therefore, in this period, his works consist only of flat geometric shapes arranged in a composition full of bright colors. But there was one problem: the artist was not as expressive as his friends and his paintings didn’t seem to work. While the other artists were dramatic and impulsive, Reinhardt approached his work in a more philosophical and intellectual way.
The artist, far from considering his rationality and control a defect, was proud of these features; but needed a change, a different way to approach his work. He made clear that his mission was to get to the heart of abstraction. As he defined it, to “a pure painting, abstract, non-objective, timeless, space less, changeless, non-relational, selfless – a subject that is conscious of itself, ideal, transcendent, focused on nothing but in the art itself “. That is, an art without emotions or beliefs, an art of a vacuum: that didn’t say or express anything … and it is for these reasons that he begins to separate himself from the abstract expressionists.
Reinhardt then had no choice but to start experimenting and took a radical turn, which ended symbolically in their series of Black paintings, works in which he worked from 1960 until the end of his life in 1967.
Reinhardt presents for the first time this series in 1963. The show stirred the art community, and even several members of the MoMA, where the paintings were exhibited, canceled their registration. The reason? They were just canvases painted in black. All of them very alike. It is true that we cannot accuse the spectators because paying to see only black canvases seems a little … fraudulent. But it is also true that the public had the artistic sensibility of a drunken pirate. Because the paintings are not just black and that’s it: Reinhardt mixed colors with black painting to obtain tones that, although subtle, were different. He even will state that “there is an old black and a new black, a glossy black and boring black, a black in sunlight and a black in darkness.” From this exhibition, the British philosopher Richard Wollheim first used the term minimal to describe Reinhardt’s paintings. Then the concept will evolve and the minimalism will become an artistic movement in its own right. Abstract # 5, 1962, is one of the work of this series. Unfortunately, we have to see it in person to appreciate its subtleties. Particularly, this canvas is divided into 9 square planes, with 3 wide and 3 high, and, while the planes in the extremes are more reddish, in the central one the, the black is bluish. However, the important thing here is that this work serves us as an example to think about the artist’s evolution and the conclusion of his research. Works such as Abstract # 5, 1962 are final objects, versions of an art that lacks of any intention whatsoever, that challenges us to interpret it until we reached the conclusion that there is nothing to interpret, because it has nothing to say … that is art for art’s sake only… and nothing else.