Photo Essays

How to Look at Ad Reinhardt’s Cartoons

by Jillian Steinhauer on December 12, 2013

(all images © 2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York / London)

Ad Reinhardt cartoon (all images © 2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York / London)

At David Zwirner gallery right now, you can see an entire room of Ad Reinhardt‘s black paintings. It’s the first chance to do so in New York since 1991. But you can also see work for which the artist is less known — in particular, his cartoons.

Yes, Reinhardt, a die-hard abstractionist, also drew cartoons and illustrations, largely for the daily newspaper PM between 1942 and 1947. “People knew that Reinhardt had been a cartoonist,” Robert Storr, who curated the show, told The New Yorker. “But the cartoons were seen merely as a sideline. In fact, we show that they’re an entire dimension of his work as an artist.”

Reinhardt often used his cartoons, especially his How to Look at Art series, to advocate for abstraction (which I find slightly ironic; see the example above), and he displays a sharp wit about the art world. Both in subject matter and in influence (played out in the work of artists like William Powhida and Loren Munk), these works feel incredibly relevant today. Here, courtesy of David Zwirner, are a few from the How to Look at Art series:

Ad Reinhardt, "How to Look at Modern Art in America," PM (June 2, 1946) (© 2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York / London)

Ad Reinhardt, “How to Look at Modern Art in America,” PM (June 2, 1946) (click to enlarge)

Ad Reinhardt, "How to Look at Art-Talk," PM, (June 9, 1946) (© 2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)

Ad Reinhardt, “How to Look at Art-Talk,” PM, (June 9, 1946) (click to enlarge)

Ad Reinhardt, "How to Look at a Good Idea," PM (August 4, 1946) (© 2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)

Ad Reinhardt, “How to Look at a Good Idea,” PM (August 4, 1946) (click to enlarge)

Ad Reinhardt, "How to Look at Creation, How to Look at 3 Current Shows, and How to Look at a Theme," PM (December 15, 1946) (© 2013 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London)

Ad Reinhardt, “How to Look at Creation, How to Look at 3 Current Shows, and How to Look at a Theme,” PM (December 15, 1946) (click to enlarge)

Ad Reinhardt continues at David Zwirner (537 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through December 18.

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  • Michael Corris

    In his comments on Ad Reinhardt at David Zwirner Gallery, the organizer of the exhibition — Robert Storr — says that the artist’s cartoons were “seen merely as a sideline.” As far as the general public is concerned, this is probably the case. Museum and gallery exhibitions and most art critics have reinforced this message — a line initially
    promulgated by Reinhardt himself during the latter part of his career and rigorously
    enforced by subsequent actions of the Estate of Ad Reinhardt. Yet historians of
    art and others who have kept up with scholarship on Reinhardt will know that
    this is far from an adequate picture of the artist. The question of the
    relationship of Reinhardt’s various practices to each other as well as to a
    more expansive concept of artistic practice was raised and examined by
    historians of art as early as the 1980s.

    The desire to understand the full measure of Reinhardt’s versatility and the satisfaction that such knowledge brings is a sentiment that Mr. Storr and I share. He is a very good position to know that the public — and others involved with visual art — would have had the opportunity to assess all of Reinhardt’s practices sooner but for repeated
    decisions by the Estate to refuse permission to scholars who had wished to
    reproduce these images and to discuss them in relation to Reinhardt’s overall
    practice as an artist. I should know, as I am one of those who had been denied
    permission not once, but twice, to reproduce Reinhardt’s work — paintings,
    graphic design, cartoons, etc. — in connection with peer-reviewed research
    arguing for a holistic view of the artist’s practice. Despite the prohibition,
    my scholarship on Reinhardt was published and widely disseminated across
    academia and in the art press.

    Clearly, it is the prerogative of the Estate of Ad Reinhardt to make whatever decision they wish with regard to the legacy of the artist. Sometimes — not often — there is a change of heart and artist’s estate may loosen their grip and allow for the public dissemination of
    information that had hitherto remained off limits. The consequence of such openness and transparency is that the conversation about the meaning and significance of the artist’s lifework is renewed and refreshed. I am gratified that a more complete range of Reinhardt’s practices has finally been allowed to be made public with the blessings of the Estate of Ad Reinhardt.

    However, in the flurry of excitement and wonder over works by Reinhardt that have not been visible for so long, we should not forget that in academic circles it is considered to be bad form to build upon the research of others without giving credit where credit is due. It is up to the community of historians and critics of art to decide if it is disingenuous of Mr. Storr — who is considered to be a serious and ethical curator — to give the
    impression that the exhibition concept that he has had the privilege of presenting to the public is entirely without precedent. Granted, public events are not the best setting for footnotes, and forthcoming scholarship by Mr. Storr on Reinhardt may reveal another approach. But as far as this episode is concerned, Mr. Storr’s curatorial concept appears ex nihilo.

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