Writings About Music

Advocating Ad: the Paintings of Ad Reinhardt

This writing was spurred by a visit to various New York City museums, discovering there was not a single Ad Reinhardt painting on view.

It’s baffling to me how Ad Reinhardt has remained relatively ignored and underestimated by the art world. Contemporaries I personally find dramatically less compelling in comparison, including Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline (not to negate their own value, of course), are lavished with attention and praise while he is neglected.

My apparently solitary view finds Jackson Pollack to be the sole American artist of Reinhardt’s rarified caliber, and Kandinsky, to my astonishment upon reflection, may be the only artist of the twentieth century and beyond who I value more than Ad.

Fortunately for myself, a number of Reinhardt’s immaculate inventions were hanging on the walls of MOMA during the time I lived in NYC, and being drawn in by these ocular revelations was transformative.

Ad’s paintings at once resonate with the extraordinary dichotomy of mystic and scientist, world explorer and interior saint. His hues illuminate the subtle transverses of life-giving veins and informing synapses, his structures reassemble puzzles of abstract, forgotten nomenclature.

How ingenious and perfectly balanced the placement of rectangles in Abstract Painting (Blue) from 1952, divulging a fresh contrapuntal pathway through the labyrinth. How exquisite his early multi-colored paintings with their original calibration of dynamic riches that ricochet unleashed from the canvas and through the space.

Detail of Abstract Painting (Blue) 1952



Abstract Painting (Blue) by Ad Reinhardt (9 feet by 3 feet 4 inches)


His black paintings are to Western art what the John Coltrane and Rashied Ali duet recording, Interstellar Space, is to jazz: an unsurpassable quietus from which others may only move backwards in reverence.

It seems possible that part of Reinhardt’s relative invisibility stems from his non-conformity, and famously uninhibited criticism of his contemporaries, including artists, presenters and critics, who may have adopted and passed along opinions motivated by anger, jealousy and censorship as opposed to truthfulness and valid scholarship. Another explanation may be that Ad’s profound Eastern influences, a central key to appreciating his compositions, remain unrecognized. Of course, its also possible that museums feel Reinhardt’s paintings are simply too esoteric for public consumption.

- Michael Robinson, March 2013, Los Angeles

Postscript: In July 2015, I visited New York City, and was astonished and thrilled to find Abstract Painting (Blue) on display at the Museum of Modern Art, along with one of Reinhardt's "black" paintings. The dimensions of Abstract Painting (Blue) were much larger than I had remembered. There was also newly added text including Ad Reinhardt as an essential artist of his era. It was apparant that influential people at the museum had read my essay and agreed with me that Reinhardt should not be excluded, not to mention featuring the very canvas I addressed here.


© 2013 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.