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Abstract Painting, Blue, 1953
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Abstract Painting, Blue, 1953
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About the item

Oil on canvas274.5 by 102cm.Executed in 1952.\nSigned, titled and dated 1953 on the backing board\n“The one standard in art is oneness and fineness, rightness and purity, abstractness and evanescence. The one thing to say about art is its breathlessness, lifelessness, deathlessness, contentlessness, formlessness, spacelessness and timelessness. This is always the end of art.” (Ad Reinhardt, 1962, quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, The Jewish Museum, Ad Reinhardt: Paintings, 1966, p. 10) A majestic and ravishing totem of pure optical brilliance and overwhelming chromatic intensity, Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting, Blue from 1953 is an archetype of Reinhardt’s pioneering early output, which defined the very trajectory of minimalism at the advent of the half-century. Abstract Painting, Blue exemplifies Reinhardt’s ability to honor the primal mystery and possibilities of color as an essence and not a metaphor. Mighty and compelling in its massively scaled vertical grandeur, the present work is not only a feast for the eyes, but possesses an unshakeable command over its physical environs and stimulates every sensory muscle of each viewer. The brilliantly saturated cobalt surface exudes light from within its very core, harnessing a perceptual magic that optically fuses chromatic brilliance with a mysterious nocturnal presence. Included in Reinhardt’s seminal solo exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1967, Abstract Painting, Blue is a historically monumental example of the artist’s groundbreaking oeuvre.\n1953—the year that Reinhardt painted the present work—was truly a watershed year for the artist’s career, as it is the first year in which critics began to widely praise his brilliance. 1953 saw Reinhardt originate the symmetrical, trisected, and single-crossbeam devices that would become his irrevocable trademark; possessing such a configuration, the grid-like depth of Abstract Painting, Blue is a touchstone for Reinhardt’s practice, exemplifying in immense scale the artist’s mastery over color and form. Chosen for its absolute symmetry, the cross-like pattern in fact predates the symbols with which it shares religious and cultural allusions. While conjuring several associations, this distilled form eludes an allegorical signature, having existed as a significant shape in both Eastern and Western cultures for centuries; reduced to its pure abstract essence, the crossed form becomes not a sign at all, but merely paint atop canvas. Freed from any intimation of content, Reinhardt reveled in the potentiality of naked form. Attracted to Cubism, Reinhardt shattered the conventions of the movement by means of its very own forms. Absolving the rectilinear form from its capacity to create an image in perspectival depth, as demonstrated by artists such as Picasso and Braque, Reinhardt rendered it a neutral optical device devoid of image or subject. In this respect, Abstract Painting, Blue formally advances upon the precedent set by Kazimir Malevich, whose revolutionary canvases share the monochromatic rectilinear configuration of Reinhardt’s compositions. Like Malevich, whose paintings called for the reduction of painting to its very essence, Reinhardt’s composition implies both finality and the creation of a blank slate to open an entirely new potentiality. As Lucy Lippard remarked, “If Reinhardt is, as he would like to be, making the last painting anyone can make, it is the first of his last paintings.”  (Exh. Cat., New York, The Jewish Museum, Ad Reinhardt: Paintings, 1966, p. 11)\nThe present work articulates the color blue in three discrete, alternating tones: deep navy, hazy indigo, and luminous cobalt. These chromatic variations are not yet as faint as they would become in Reinhardt’s later black paintings, while also marking a departure from Reinhardt’s earlier compositions of interspersed bricks of clearly disparate hues—Abstract Painting, Blue lies somewhere in between as a formative, transitional painting that displays Reinhardt’s maturing practice. Elegant and sophisticated in its soaring slender stature, Abstract Painting, Blue responds to the proportions of the human body, mimicking the posture of the viewer who stands before it; the picture inspires pure verticality. Perfectly symmetrical, the present work is arranged in a hierarchical tripartite structure with two inverted T shapes at top and bottom, partitioned by a square oculus at center. For all of its gridded flatness, the cross pattern lends the painting an unmistakable dimensionality. The center bar that vertically bisects the painting appears to be woven beneath the center square through the middle section before resurfacing in the lowermost module of the picture. Similarly, the four indigo squares positioned like coordinates at the upper and lower edges of the painting appear not as unilateral blocks of color, but rather as two horizontal strips woven below the vertical cross bar at center. This center bar evokes Barnett Newman’s ‘zip’, while the three stacked registers conjure Rothko’s horizontal passages of form. Reinhardt’s achievement rests in his capacity to create a grid-form that is composed not of autonomous boxes, but that coalesces in the viewer’s eye as a three-dimensional system with its own inner logic.\nReinhardt’s innate inclination was toward the geometric, but he sought a refined clarity in style and aesthetic that would go beyond any rigidity of strict formalist structure or non-objectivist theory. Thomas B. Hess wrote an acute summation of the subtle mastery of the early 1950s paintings in his review for the 1953 exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, in the same year that Reinhardt executed the present work: “The major effect is transmitted by large paintings, physically over-size… The precious aspect of the small 1913 Mondrians is avoided, as is the overwhelmingly panoramic suction into surface of the giant-scale works of Jackson Pollock or Clyfford Still… The edges of the shapes are neat but not precise, soft, obviously hand-made …The hues too are distributed evenly… Contrasting colors are often adjusted to equivalences… which, in Fairfield Porter’s phrase, make your eyes rock…. But despite their variety, flatness is positively asserted in all the pictures: there is no overlapping, no play with illusion or dimension.” (Thomas B. Hess, “Reinhardt: the Position and Perils of Purity”, Art News, December 1953, p. 26) The seminal and classic blue and red monochromes from the early 1950s reveal an incredibly restrained and soulful clarity that remains the capstone of Reinhardt’s entire oeuvre. Their geometric symmetry, subtle tonal variation, and frontal verticality allowed for the full expression of a single color’s range. As Lippard indicated, “Reinhardt seems to have settled on monochromes as a major direction in 1953… His choice of red and blue may have been in recognition of a dualism present in all his work from the early forties, his interest in both a very warm and a very cool light.” (Lucy Lippard, Ad Reinhardt, 1981, p. 97)\nAbstract Painting, Blue affirms Reinhardt’s place in the pantheon of the great masters of color such as Josef Albers and Mark Rothko, drawing a complex dualism and optical complexity from the interplay of slightly varied monochromatic hues. Undoubtedly one of Reinhardt’s earliest masterpieces, Abstract Painting, Blue conveys a pureness of beauty and intellectual rigor that set the foundation for his entire career. Reinhardt’s paintings circulate internal forms whose relations depend not on motion or composition, but on an absolute, uncompromising stillness, a static hum that glows. Instead of the trick dynamics of so-called optical painting, instead of the distraction of potential movement, his work achieves a perfect durational stillness, endlessly complicit with the act of looking. Upon contemplating Abstract Painting, Blue, the eye never scans, or dilates: instead, like an optic nerve responding to a long, maintained stimuli, it is held.
US
NY, US
US

notes

Please note the correct medium for this work is acrylic on canvas.

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Ad Reinhardt

condition

The painting is in good condition overall. There are some scattered small areas of inpainting primarily located at the lower left edge and upper left edge visible under ultraviolet light. The canvas is unlined. There is a line seam inherent to the canvas weave visible approximately 6 inches from the left running vertically from the top to the bottom of the canvas. The blue media is confirmed to be three layers of acrylic paint above a white gessoed ground. A clear acrylic has been applied, undetermined when but probably soon after it was painted. The original grey strip frame has been replaced with a replica – contemporary with what Reinhardt used in the early 1950's, the color matched from residual original grey paint on the pull margin of the painting. The original corrugated backboard signed and dated by the artist is intact. There are a number of anomalies that exist with the date of his use of acrylic paint and varnish medium. Please refer to the Cranmer Art Group report, available upon request at the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

108 x 40 in. 274.5 x 102 cm.

exhibition

New York, The Jewish Museum, Ad Reinhardt: Paintings, November 1966 - January 1967, cat. no. 62, p. 63, illustrated Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Un Musée Ephémère: Collections privées française 1945-1985, July - October 1986, cat. no. 62, p. 117, illustrated in color

literature

Lucy R. Lippard, Ad Reinhardt, New York, 1981, cat. no. 73, p. 97, illustrated

provenance

The Artist Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome Pierre and São Schlumberger (acquired from the above in 1972) Acquired from the Estate of the above by the present owner in 1988

signedDate

Signed, titled and dated 1953 on the backing board

consignmentDesignation

The Schlumberger Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1913 - 1967





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