Ad Reinhardt and Tony Smith

12 Dec 2008 - 24 Jan 2009

"A Dialogue"

December 12, 2008 — January 24, 2009

PaceWildenstein presents an exhibition pairing the work of Ad Reinhardt and Tony Smith from the 1950s and 1960s

NEW YORK, December 1, 2008—PaceWildenstein is honored to present Ad Reinhardt and Tony Smith: A Dialogue, on view from December 12, 2008 through January 24, 2009 at 32 East 57th Street, New York City. The gallery’s fourth major exhibition devoted to Ad Reinhardt (b. 1913–d. 1967) places the artist’s monochromatic blue and black paintings from the early 1950s and 1960s in dialogue with the reductive sculptures of the artist and architect Tony Smith (b. 1912–d. 1980). Reinhardt and Smith were contemporaries who worked towards similar results— in the very different mediums of sculpture and painting— in a reductive approach to form. In Ad Reinhardt’s case, it was the cruciform, and in Tony Smith’s, the tetrahedron. Four sculptures by Smith created between 1961 and 1967 and four black and three blue monochrome paintings by Reinhardt from 1952–1966 will be on view.
In the early 1950s, Reinhardt reduced his palette to variation on a single color, working first in red, then in blue monochromatic paintings. Gradually Reinhardt began moving into tonalities of black and by 1956 they became his sole concentration. Reinhardt sought to “[p]ush painting beyond its thinkable, seeable, feelable limits.” In his search for a pure art, he had discovered “[t]he dark of absolute freedom.” The subtle nuances between the tones of black reveal themselves with time, which is an active ingredient in his paintings. The perceptual demands of Reinhardt’s paintings reflect the values of Eastern cultures in which the artist became progressively interested. While the paintings are not intended to be religious, the contemplative and meditative state that they induce relate to recovering the spiritual in a secular culture that Reinhardt believed was diminishing art to the status of a commercial trading commodity.
Like Reinhardt, Tony Smith approached abstraction as a spiritual exercise, directly correlating the spiritual with his aesthetic aims. In his meditation “The Pattern of Organic Life in America,” Smith wrote that “[d]esign has the quality of freeing the particular. Of releasing it from its limitations as specific and giving a universal aspect to it.” Rather than a product of conscious calculation, Smith’s art was derived from the unconscious; “All my sculpture is on the edge of dreams,” he once said. A painter for much of his life and an architect by vocation, Smith did not create his first sculpture until 1956, at the age of 44, after responding to a problem that he had posed to his architectural and engineering design students. It was the tetrahedron that led Smith “further and further from considerations of function and structure and toward speculation in pure form.” Just as the cruciform served as Reinhardt’s building block for his monochromatic paintings, the tetrahedron was a basic modular form that enabled Smith to create richly complex works governed by an overall simplicity which was only decipherable after contemplation and lengthy study. For example, Smoke, 1967, initially constructed for the Scale as Content exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., is not a rectangular grid, which would have been easily comprehended, but rather a crystalline, hexagonal structure that rises from a three-sided structure. Each of the eight columns is topped with a tetrahedron with three sides, creating a basic generating function that could conceivably extend to infinity.
Ad Reinhardt and Tony Smith: A Dialogue continues a tradition in PaceWildenstein’s exhibition history of pairing two artists together in historical context. They include Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism,April 20- June 23, 2007;Josef Albers / Donald Judd: Form and Color, January 26–February 24, 2007; Dubuffet and Basquiat: Personal Histories, April 28–June 17, 2006; The Women of Giacometti, October 28 - December 17, 2005, which later travelled to the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas from January 14- April 9, 2006; Mondrian/Reinhardt: Influence and Affinity, October 24–December 13, 1997; and Bonnard—Rothko: Color and Light, February 19–March 22, 1997.
Ad Reinhardt (b. 1913- d. 1967) was born on December 24th, 1913 in Buffalo, New York. Reinhardt enrolled at Columbia University in 1931, where he studied Art History under the renowned art historian Meyer Schapiro. Reinhardt briefly worked for the WPA Federal Art Project (1937- 1941) and made witty commentaries on the art world in his cartoons for the leftist tabloid, PM. In the late 1930s and 1940s, Reinhardt started experimenting with the collage technique. His brightly colored construction paper studies led him towards further fragmentation and all-over collage. Using choppy, calligraphic strokes, Reinhardt began to break down the geometric structure of his paintings ca. 1941-1943. In 1944 Reinhardt entered the Navy and served as a photographer mate on the U.S.S. Salerno bay. In 1946, and continuing after the war until 1952, Reinhardt studied Asian art history at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. In 1952, Reinhardt exhibited large-scale abstract paintings comprised of fields of colored bricks. He flattened the picture plane by evening the hues, reducing the contrast so that the forms became at times barely discernable from one another. In the early 1950s Reinhardt reduced his palette to a single color, working first in red, and then in blue monochromes. Gradually, he began moving into black paintings, and by 1956 made them his sole concentration.
Reinhardt’s first solo exhibition was held at the Teachers College Gallery at Columbia University in 1943. Since that time more than fifty solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted. A major retrospective of his work, Ad Reinhardt: Paintings, was organized by The Jewish Museum in 1966. Other significant solo exhibitions include Ad Reinhardt, organized by The Städtische Kunsthalle, which later traveled to the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Kunsthaus, Zurich; Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, and Museum des 20, Jarhunderts, Vienna (1972- 1973); Reinhardt and Color, mounted at the Guggenheim Museum (1980); Ad Reinhardt: A Concentration of Works from the Permanent Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. A 50th Anniversary Exhibition (1980- 1981); and Ad Reinhardt at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which later traveled to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1991). PaceWildenstein has represented Reinhardt’s estate since 1976. In addition to a painter, Reinhardt was also a powerful writer, philosopher, and a teacher. Reinhardt work is held in thirty public collections worldwide, including Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Ho-Am Art Museum, Seoul, Korea; I.V.A.M. Centre Julio González, Valencia, Spain; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany; Tate Gallery, London, Great Britain; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Tony Smith (b. 1912- d. 1980) was born in South Orange, New Jersey. Smith had tuberculosis as a child and lived in a small, prefabricated house behind his family’s home. Alone in his house with nothing besides a small black stove, he constructed pueblo villages out of the boxes that his medicine came in. Smith first trained as an architect and began working for Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939. Smith was a painter and a writer and for a time was a student at the Art Students League of New York. He began sculpting in 1956, at the age of 44, after trying to demonstrate to his students the structural advantages of the tetrahedral above standard right-angle joints. Smith’s first exhibition came in 1964 when Samuel Wagstaff received word of the artist’s activity and introduced him to the public in an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford entitled Black, White, and Grey. Two years later, Wagstaff organized an exhibition devoted solely to Smith’s work which ran concurrently with Kynaston McShine’s Primary Structure at the Jewish Museum in New York that defined the new reductive art. A major retrospective of Smith’s work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1998. More than seventy solo exhibitions of Smith’s work have been mounted to date.

Tags: Josef Albers, Ed Atkins, Julio González, Donald Judd, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Ad Reinhardt, Tony Smith