Ad Reinhardt (1913 – 1967) studied both Eastern and Western art history at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He deepened his understanding of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies by attending the lectures of Zen teacher Daisetz Suzuki at Columbia University. Number 22 (1949) shows Reinhardt fusing Eastern and Western traditions by using calligraphic brushwork inspired by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy in a gridded composition influenced by those of de Stijl cofounder Piet Mondrian.
Number 22, Detail
In classical East Asian painting, the fragility of paper wet with ink limits the artist’s ability to rework the composition. The sturdier canvas support and slower-drying oil paints used throughout much of the history of Western painting allows artists to highlight various revision and layering techniques. Although he worked in oil on canvas, Reinhardt chose to restrain himself and not rework his painting’s surface, in keeping with Asian calligraphic traditions. The result is a far more controlled manner of gestural painting than those of the Abstract Expressionists.
In the mid-1960s, affordable, single-use paper clothing enjoyed a burst of widespread popularity when it was introduced to an American market eager for commodities. This Disposable Paper Dress was produced by the North Carolina factory of Mars of Asheville on the occasion of the 1968 presidential election. The surname of Richard Nixon is emblazoned across the garment in red uppercase letters along with alternating blue stars, transforming its wearer into a walking endorsement of the Republican candidate whose tenure as president would encompass the first man on the moon, the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam, and eventual impeachment and resignation.
Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.
Influenced by Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte sought to strip objects of their usual functions and meanings in order to convey an irrationally compelling image. In Voice of Space (of which three other oil versions exist), the bells float in the air; elsewhere they occupy human bodies or replace blossoms on bushes. By distorting the scale, weight, and use of an ordinary object and inserting it into a variety of unaccustomed contexts, Magritte confers on that object a fetishistic intensity. He has written of the jingle bell, a motif that recurs often in his work: “I caused the iron bells hanging from the necks of our admirable horses to sprout like dangerous plants at the edge of an abyss.”
The disturbing impact of the bells presented in an unfamiliar setting is intensified by the cool academic precision with which they and their environment are painted. The dainty slice of landscape could be the backdrop of an early Renaissance painting, while the bells themselves, in their rotund and glowing monumentality, impart a mysterious resonance.
Constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris as a symbol of technological advancement, the Eiffel Tower captured the attention of painters and poets attempting to define the essence of modernity. In his series on the subject (1909 – 12) Robert Delauney developed faceted and fragmented forms typical of the Cubists and presented the tower and surrounding buildings from various perspectives. His technique demonstrated his preference for a sense of vast space, atmosphere and light, while evoking a sign of contemporary life and progress. Many of Delaunay’s city views appear from a window framed by curtains: in Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel, 1911) , the buildings bracketing the structure curve like drapery.
Eiffel Tower was the first of many works by Delaunay that Solomon R. Guggenheim collected following his visit to the artist’s Paris studio in 1930.
A toll clerk by profession, Henri Rousseau only began to paint seriously in his forties. Critics lambasted the untrained artist’s unsentimental images of faraway places (he never traveled outside of France), yet the Parisian avant-garde celebrated his unique style. Executed only two years before he died a pauper, The Football Players (1908) illustrates Rousseau’s quirky attempts to depict modern times with a new sport, rugby. The active, albeit stylized athletes present a rare exception from Rousseau’s largely static compositions.
Window on the City No 3 (1912) belongs to Robert Delaunay’s series City (La Ville, 1909-11) which helped establish his reputation as a leading avant-garde artist. The painting also marks a fundamental transition in the artist’s oeuvre: while in earlier paintings light was a device used to break up objects, in this work light becomes the subject itself. The patchwork texture, common to his paintings, is transformed into a consistent pattern of triangles and rectangles. A new range of brilliant colors explodes on the canvas surface. Interestingly, the reverse of this painting bears fragments of Carousel of Pigs (1906), which was once thought lost. This unfinished work is characteristic of Delaunay’s previous exploration of Neo-impressionism and includes renderings of people and flowers broken down into brilliant colors, reveling the different ways in which, in painting, light visually constructs all objects.
By the late 1920s, Rudolf Bauer (1889 – 1953) had replaced the lively and organic symphony of shapes that he had developed in his earlier work with a more balanced aesthetic. Invention (Composition 31) (1933) epitomizes this trend and features flat geometries tightly gravitating toward a dark center, a hazy black shape perhaps symbolizing the ultimate void. Also around this time, museum founder Solomon R. Guggenheim became acquainted with the artist through Bauer’s former companion, Hilla Rebay. Not only was Bauer’s work amassed in depth, but he also played an integral role as Guggenheim’s European agent in the first decade that Guggenheim spent forming his modern art collection. Invention (Composition 31) was reproduced on the cover of the catalogue Art of Tomorrow, which accompanied the opening exhibition of the Guggenheim Museum’s Non-Objective Painting, New York in June 1939.