Mark Rothko, No. 5/No. 22, 1950 (dated on verso 1949), Oil on canvas, 9' 9" x 8' 11-1/8", Gift of the artist, © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko, Finding Their Styles, 1940s-1960s

Left, Mark Rothko. (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970), Untitled, (1968). Synthetic polymer paint on paper, 17 7/8 x 23 7/8", Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. © 2000 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right, Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1957, Oil on canvas, 9' x 40". Purchase, © 2008 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Left, Mark Rothko, No. 3/No. 13, 1950 (dated on verso 1949), Oil on canvas, 9' 9" x 8' 11-1/8". Gift of the artist, © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right, Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting (Blue), 1952, Oil on canvas, 9' 1/4" x 40-1/8", Given anonymously (by exchange) and purchase, © 2008 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Left, Mark Rothko, No. 5/No. 22, 1950 (dated on verso 1949), Oil on canvas, 9' 9" x 8' 11-1/8", Gift of the artist, © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right, Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, Red, 1952, Oil on canvas, 9' x 40-1/8", Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gifford Phillips, © 2008 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
212-708-9400
New York
The Maja Oeri
and Hans Bodenmann Gallery,
fourth floor
Focus: Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko
March 7-August 3, 2008

Focus: Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko, in MoMA’s Painting and Sculpture galleries, features five paintings by Ad Reinhardt (American, 1913-67) and six by Mark Rothko (American, 1903-70) from the Museum’s collection. The works in this single-gallery installation highlight the years between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, a period during which each artist identified the style and format that would engage him for the rest of his career. Reinhardt and Rothko’s ideas about form and color challenged and reconsidered European artistic traditions and philosophies, giving rise to a unique American sensibility in art, particularly in painting.

Their paintings were characterized not by the grand, expressive gestures and brushwork of their Abstract Expressionist colleagues, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, but rather by subtleties in color, form, and composition. These large-scale works are all-encompassing, sustaining the viewers’ attention by creating physical sensations and constantly changing visual perceptions. The exhibition is organized by Elizabeth Reede, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art.

Reinhardt utilized the planar surface of the canvas as a support for his experiments with and studies of monochrome palettes, in blue, red, and, black, throughout the early 1950s. By mid-decade he had committed to an increasingly nocturnal palette of layered, almost indistinguishable colors laid adjacent to one another in a vertical rectilinear format. These experiments are represented by the paintings Number 107 (1950), Abstract Painting (Blue) (1952), and Abstract Painting, Red (1952).

This exploration of color and symmetry resulted in Reinhardt’s developing a trisected, three-by-three grid, which developed further in the 1950s and 1960s and concluded in the quietly ordered sub-patterns and homogeneous surfaces of his five-foot-square black paintings, such as Abstract Painting (1963).

Reinhardt, also a writer, was a pioneer of conceptual and minimal art. He was a critic of abstract expressionism. His earliest exhibited paintings avoided representation, but show a steady progression away from objects and external reference.

His work progressed from compositions of geometrical shapes in the 40s to works in different shades of the same color (all red, all blue, all white) in the 50s.

Reinhardt is best known for his so-called "black" paintings of the 1960s, which appear at first glance to be simply canvanses painted black but are actually composed of black and nearly black shades. Among many other suggestions, these paintings ask if there can be such a thing as an absolute, even in black, which some viewers may not consider a color at all.

Similar to Reinhardt, Rothko had a profound interest in internal compositional
organization. Rothko often floated three blurry-edged rectangles atop one another, connecting the forms as much by the interstitial spaces as by the oscillating shapes themselves.

His oversized, unframed, color-saturated canvases were meant to engage viewers by enveloping them. Works on view in the exhibition include No. 16 (Red, Brown, and Black) (1958), No.37/No.19 (Slate Blue and Brown on Plum) (1958), and Red and Orange (1955).

Mark Rothko was a Latvian-born Jewish American painter and printmaker who is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he rejected not only the label but even being called an abstract painter.

Rothko's first large one-man show was at the Contemporary Arts Gallery, showing 15 oil paintings, mostly portraits, along with some aquarelles and drawings. It was the former that captured the critic’s eyes; Rothko’s use of rich fields of color showed a master’s touch. In late 1935 Rothko joined Ilya Bolotowsky, Ben-Zion, Adolph Gottlieb, Lou Harris, Ralph Rosenborg, Lou Schankerand Joe Solomon to form "The Ten" (Whitney Ten Dissenters), whose mission (according to a catalog from a 1937 Mercury Gallery show) was "to protest against the reputed equivalence of American painting and literal painting."

Ad Reinhardt. (American, 1913-1967), Abstract Painting, 1960-61, Oil on canvas, 60 x 60". Purchase (by exchange), © 2008 Estate of Ad Reinhardt / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York