New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Ad Reinhardt and Color, January - March 1980, cat. no. 21, p. 53, illustrated in color
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Ad Reinhardt, May 1991 - January 1992, p. 63, illustrated in color and illustrated in color on the New York exhibition announcement
``I don't understand, in a painting, the love of anything except the love of painting itself.''
--Ad Reinhardt, 1950
Reinhardt's paintings have a timeless presence and for all their formalist concerns, they are silent, subtle and soulful paintings. Reinhardt possessed an authority over color, surface and composition that is unsurpassed, reflective of his independent journey toward ``the first painting which cannot be misunderstood'' (Reinhardt quoted in Art News, New York, March 1965). Reinhardt was staunch in his belief that good painting did not depict objects or subject matter and he deplored the painterly excess of the New York Action Painters of the late 1940s and early 1950s. His 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. In the classic period of the early 1950s, his blue and red abstractions such as Abstract Painting, Blue are particularly prized as celebrations of color in non-referential terms. Reinhardt was never more commanding than in his close-valued, bright hued canvases of 1950-1951 that allow for a myriad of variations, most notably in the large impressive format of Abstract Painting, Blue.
The color "bricks'' that expand across the surface of Abstract Painting, Blue appear first in Reinhardt's 1949 paintings in which edges of color form are often softer and more diffuse, almost more painterly. By 1950-51, they have gradually flattened toward more geometric patterns that interlock in more complex array as in Abstract Painting, Blue.
Thomas B. Hess wrote an acute summation of the subtle mastery of the early 1950s paintings in his review for the 1953 Betty Parsons exhibition. "The major effect is transmitted by large paintings, physically over-size.... The precious aspect of the small 1919 Mondrians is avoided, as is the overwhelmingly panoramic suction into surface of the giant-scale works by such men as Jackson Pollock or Clyfford Still...The edges of the shapes are neat but not precise, soft, obviously handmade. ...The hues, too, are distributed evenly... Contrasting colors are often adjusted to equivalences... which, in Fairfield Porter's phrase, make your eyes rock. Or again, close values will cause differences of hue to vanish. Sometimes the hues themselves barely vary from shape to shape. .. But despite their variety, flatness is positively asserted in all the pictures: there is no overlapping, no play with illusion or dimension.'' (``Reinhardt: the Position and Perils of Purity'', Art News, December 1953, p. 26).
Light plays a revelatory role in Reinhardt's hands, contributing to the palpable presence of color in this chromatic masterpiece. The subtle composition is revealed as the blues absorb or reflect light playing across its surface, varying according to the time of day or angle of observation. Abstract Painting, Blue honors the primal mystery and possibilities of color as an essence not a metaphor.
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