Critics’ Picks

How to Look at Art-Talk, c.1946–1955.

How to Look at Art-Talk, c.1946–1955.

New York

Ad Reinhardt

Daniel Silverstein Gallery
520 W. 21 Street
November 18–December 31, 2003

Ad Reinhardt is best known to the art-viewing public for his “black paintings,” a career-long series of luminous, cruciform abstractions that are a cornerstone of Minimalism, and to conservators for his hand-ground pigments that are almost impossible to match. He’s less well known for the elaborate diagrams and flowcharts, done on assignment for PM magazine and Art News in the '40s and '50s, in which he explained the vicissitudes of the art world—in particular, the teleology of modern painting as it led to the rarefied precincts of pure abstraction—in layman’s terms. In pieces like How to Look at Modern Art in America, How to Look at a Good Idea, and How to Look at a Mural, Reinhardt lays out branching genealogies of artists and movements alongside advertorial exclamations from the mouths of folksy cartoon hobos, snakes, pigs, and aristocratic gentlemen. “Is a painting a practical means of propaganda today with all our newspapers and radio?” one panel asks. “No,” replies a llama being attacked by a lion. At once commonsensical and gnomically personal, these funny, hyperintelligent collages add up to a raucous time capsule of the midcentury New York art world, where painterly abstraction held deep ideological connotations and regular-guy artists wrung their hands over the inherent elitism of their craft.