A satirical cartoonist and a polemicist at heart, Ad Reinhardt was one of the major American artists of his day. In his many writings, he took a strong position against gestural painting and in favor of “pure art.” He tended increasingly in his output to extreme simplification in form and color, culminating in his series of “black” or “ultimate” paintings. “I am quite simply making the last paintings anyone could make,” Reinhardt announced about these black-on-black nearly identical square paintings that reveal to the attentive eye a cross structure on the verge of imperceptibility. By his radical declarations on formal purity and his palette reduced to a single color, Reinhardt became a key figure for minimal and conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s.
Reinhardt’s prints raise issues of authorship, authenticity, and politics in ways that appear neither in his paintings nor in his cartoons and writings. 10 Screenprints by Ad Reinhardt predominantly features rectangular or square compositions of blue, purple, indigo, and dark gray in checkerboard, I-beam, or T-beam patterns. The first and last silkscreens in this portfolio directly relate to Reinhardt’s black paintings, but the chromatic and compositional varieties in the remaining silkscreens expanded the format and palette of the black square motif, and recall his 1950s paintings in brighter hues.
Reinhardt was a political activist. No War, his contribution to the portfolio Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Viet Nam, is notable for the use of a quotidian, mass-produced object to drive home an overt political message. Each impression is printed on two individual, pre-stamped postcards—one mounted to show its plain, verso side, and the other, the recto, with its striped border and stamp, addressed to “War Chief, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.” Written in Reinhardt’s calligraphic script, the conceptual and visual potency of No War is delivered by repetition to a point where language begins to resemble form.