Ad Reinhardt at Woodward Gallery | Review by Jill Conner

Once Frances Stoner Saunders blew the cover of the CIA in 1999 claiming that Abstract Expressionism, Clement Greenberg and the larger anti-Communist movement operated hand-in-hand, contemporary art critics began to revisit this vaunted moment in American art history in an effort to reconcile “freedom of speech” with the larger tenets of the McCarthy era. The compartmentalization of art away from contemporary culture, toward the realm of politics, impacted artists of that time leading to a restriction of their movements, their creativity and causing them to separate their daily lives from the process that contributed to American Abstract Expressionism. Ad Reinhardt, in particular, used to say, “Art is art and everything else is everything else.” However Michael Corris’ new book titled “Ad Reinhardt,” sheds new light on the artist’s biography as well as his earlier artistic career, that of a comic artist. In addition the Woodward Gallery launched, Ad Reinhardt: In the Minds of Me, that consists of ephemera and letters written by the artist to his mistress of over twenty years, Olga Sheirr.

Ad Reinhardt: In the Minds of Me
, at the Woodward Gallery further confirms that there was more substance to the artist than anyone had known. Opening with two tribal-like, triangular drawings from 1946 titled, “Symmetrical Male Figure,” and “Symmetrical Male Figure (Woman in a Man’s Soul),” this collection of letters and ephemera sent to former student, Olga Sheirr, from 1946 to 1966 consistently references classical love and instinctual intimacy as a metaphor of their unique relationship that had long occurred in secret. In a letter to Sheirr dated 1955, for instance, the artist wrote in his typical calligraphic style, “Upsadaisy this insane out of my mind if you’re in my mind and I lose my mind do I lose you.” Clarity, in this case, was passed over for something that sounded more like the rambling writing style of William Burroughs.

However the most important pieces of Sheirr’s collection have been reproduced on photographic paper, such as the tainted pages of “Successful Love,” (1961) by Delmore Schwartz and Italo Calvino’s “The Universal Point.” Calvino’s essay from 1965 discusses the space of the universe, galaxies, overpopulation and co-habitation: “we got along so well together, so well, that something out of the ordinary was bound to happen…And instantly we all thought of the space that could have been occupied by those round arms of hers moving like a rolling pin.” The additional collages and articles torn from other sources further reveal Reinhardt’s amused interest in the clandestine.

The artist’s geometric, hieroglyphic etchings continue to appear within this show. “Symmetrical Two Travelers,” (1946) and “Symmetrical Two Travelers,” (1946) are identical in name but differ in both dimension and signature. The smaller piece was curiously signed, “Albert Radoczy,” another one of the artist’s pseudonyms and placed shortly before the crux of this exhibition, located in the back of the gallery. Several glass cases contain postcards of Persian lovers, kuros, and nude Renaissance figures along with other figures seen in Oriental art. Much of the passion expressed in Reinhardt’s letters paralleled his increasing interest in the exotic nature of Asian aesthetics at that time. In an envelope sent with a copy of Gore Vidal’s “On Pornography,” Reinhardt included his own hand-written poem:

I love you
I have to go away from New York
For a week
Or two
Read about art history
Read about pornography
When I’m with Sophia Lauren
In the movies
I think of you
When I’m with Ava Gardner
I think of you
When I’m with the goddesses of Devi or Kali
I think of you
When I’m with you
I think of you
When I’m away
I think of you
Your secret admirer X.

Contrary to popular belief, the figure played a major but subversive role throughout Ad Reinhardt’s life. Michael Corris reveals that the artist’s early career was spent drawing cartoons for two Communist magazines titled, “New Masses,” and “Soviet Russia Today,” that supported the evolution of the Labor Movement in the Unites States. Although he created over 400 caricatures that were published for mass consumption, Reinhardt used pseudonyms such as “Darryl Frederick,” “Roderick,” and “Rodney,” to disguise his true identity.

The connection of Reinhardt’s legacy with this period of his career has proven to be a problematic realization since Corris’ book, while enlightening in content, features no images due to the fact that the Ad Reinhardt Foundation refused to allow the author any right to reprint the artist’s comics with his narrative. But unlike the barrier that Corris confronted, this small but astounding collection of personal love letters will tour to the Pollock-Krasner House in the Spring of 2009, and is forecast to appear in other locations within the near future. Although the Reinhardt championed his own aesthetics at schools such as Brooklyn College, Yale and the California School of Fine Arts and developed the technique of hard-edge painting, most of Reinhardt’s life was a slight illusion, similar to that of his paintings.


ajlandi said…
Why do you say Reinhardt's life was a "slight illusion"? I find this a curious way to characterize the artist.
Jill Conner said…
Reinhardt surprisingly lived a compartmentalized life which reads rather illusory like his black on black paintings. In other words, while perceiving him one way, he was actually someone else as well.
BillyBob said…
You are completely INCORRECT!!! Albert Radoczy was a contemporary artist of ad's who specialized in abstract nudes!! Do your homework!!