SALE 0920 LOT 63

ROBERT MOTHERWELL 

American (1915-1991) 

"MEXICO," 1943 

watercolor and gouache on paper, signed, dated and titled lower left "Motherwell Mexico 43," 

inscribed upper right "For Walter Pistole III.45,” signed, titled and dated on reverse 

12 3⁄4 x 9 3⁄4 inches (sight) 

Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 63

Art is too serious to be taken seriously. -Ad Reinhardt 

Ad Reinhardt, born Adolph Dietrich Friedrich Reinhardt, grew up in Queens to German and East Prussian immigrants with socialist leaning politics. He studied art history at Columbia University under Meyer Schapiro and later at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. 

In college, joined pacifist groups and drew political cartoons for the Columbia Review and the Columbia Jester. When he graduated in 1935, he took painting classes at the National Academy of Design and the American Artists School. Reinhardt worked exclusively as an abstract painter from the beginning of his professional career, separating his graphic design work from his studio practice. He joined the American Abstract Artists group, the Artists’ Union and the American Artists Congress. 

In 1944, Reinhardt served in the US Navy as a photographer until the end of World War II. From 1947-1967 he taught art history at Brooklyn college and travelled extensively in America giving lectures on how abstraction was the style of the century. He lectured at universities including Hunter College, the California School of Fine Arts, the University of Wyoming and Yale University. 

Lucy Lippard, a contemporary author and curator, did a survey of exhibitions from 1935-1945 at the Whitney and MoMA determining that less than 5% of the works exhibited were by abstract artists. Reinhardt, in his day, was keenly aware of this lack of support and wrote letters in protest, and designed a pamphlet that distinguished collector A.E. Gallatin, distributed in front of MoMA. In this spirit, it comes as no surprise that Reinhardt signed the inflammatory letter to the Metropolitan in 1950. 

In the 1930s, like many of the New York School, he was profoundly influenced by the work of the Surrealists. By 1940 he had moved from biomorphic abstraction to geometric abstraction. In the late 1940s, influenced by Eastern, art styles he started painting in a vertical format. His color palette was reduced to monochromatic red, blue and eventually just black. 

The present work from 1943 represents a turning point in Reinhardt’s oeuvre where he had moved from Surrealism to a more rigid geometric abstraction. The composition is rhythmic and pattern-like, with a restricted use of color. His confidence working with ink on paper is evident in this composition, a nod to his work in graphic design. 

Reinhardt is considered an important proponent of American abstraction as one of the first generation New York School artists and a teacher and lecturer on the subject. His works foreshadowed Minimalism and Conceptual Art that would follow in the 1970s. During his lifetime his works were exhibited at Graham Gallery, Stable Gallery and Betty Parsons Gallery. In 1966, a year before he died, the Jewish Museum in New York presented his first retrospective. 

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