Text by Robert Storr

In February 1943, the progressive newspaper PM hired Ad Reinhardt as its staff artist and, in January 1946, Reinhardt embarked on his most ambitious illustration project—the notable “How to Look” series, in which his cartoons and collages transformed from small, supplemental illustrations, to complex, ironic, and pithy art-historical lessons always articulated with a keenly critical eye and a wry sense of humor that remains relevant today. In addition to showing Reinhardt’s complete “How to Look” series, this catalogue, which was published on the occasion of the 2013 exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, also includes the artist’s ever-relevant biting, satirical critiques of the contemporary art world later published in such periodicals as Critique, tran/sformation, Art d’aujourd’hui, and ARTnews. As Dan Nadel notes in his review of the exhibition, “Reinhardt winkingly guides viewers through art as he knew it. Along the way there are many now-forgotten artists, critics, curators and galleries, and many still known. But trace-the-reference is only part of the fun. The elegance of Reinhardt’s compositions, the deftness with which he juxtaposes text and image, and his infrequent, but jarring use of hand-drawn cartooning make each strip a gem.” 

Introducing new scholarship on this facet of Reinhardt’s career by curator Robert Storr, the publication includes large, black-and-white plates of the artist’s art comics, including the “How to Look” series in its entirety. Storr lists a handful of Reinhardt’s contemporaries who were, like the artist himself, successfully employed as illustrators in the 1930s, 1940s, and1950s, from Philip Guston to Saul Steinberg—but among them, he declares, only Reinhardt managed to “transform that bread-and-butter occupation into a full-fledged but at the same time separate dimension of his larger aesthetic enterprise.” From “How to Look at Iconography,” printed with a telling disclaimer that the editors’ views “do not necessarily reflect those of the author of this page,” to “How to Look at Art and Industry,” accompanied by passionate cautions against the danger of market obsession, these pages bring to life Reinhardt’s inimitable spirit for provocation and thoughtful critique. They exist as a testament to his legacy as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, and his comics continue to resonate as important examples of astute political, cultural, and social commentary.


Review

An Abstractionism Shaped by Wounded Ideals

‘Ad Reinhardt’ at the David Zwirner Gallery

The New York Times, by Holland Cotter
November 22, 2013