Silent Paintings

Beginning in the early 1950’s, Ad Reinhardt experimented with limited color palettes and monochromatic painting, eventually moving toward his famous “black square paintings,” which he created from 1955 to the end of his life. 

Art critic Lucy Lippard described works like Reinhardt’s black paintings as “silent paintings” which engage a wordless spiritual experience.  Reinhardt sent his college friend, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, a small black painting to use in meditation. The two shared a common interest in Eastern and Western mystical writings and art.  In a letter to Reinhardt, Merton wrote:

“That which is religious and sacred in a work of art is something other than just the artistic content, or form, or excellence of the work of art...It is not ‘about’ anything.  It is existential, it is what is in the work of art.”

Reinhardt himself spoke of the black paintings as absolutes, using the negative, and refusing interpretations:

“No sounds, sights, sensing, sensations
No intensity
No images, mental copies of sensations, imagings, imaginings
No concepts, thinking, ideas, meaning, content”

Like the black paintings, Abstract Painting: Red can be experienced contemplatively. 

Around the corner, view one of Reinhardt's black paintings, Untitled Abstraction, from 1954.