Imageless
June 11-September 14, 2008

Ad Reinhardt in his studio

Ad Reinhardt in his studio. Photo: John Loengard/TimePix

July 11–September 14, 2008

Ad Reinhardt’s Black Painting, 1960–66 (1960–66) was donated to the Guggenheim Museum in 2000 by AXA Art Insurance Corporation as a study painting after it was deemed irreparably damaged. Over the course of seven years, conservators, scientists, curators, and artists collaborated to examine the issues surrounding the conservation of this painting, including the inherent vulnerability of monochromatic and minimalist paintings to the aesthetics of aging, experimental solutions for conservation, and the associated ethics of these strategies.

Physical examination and scientific analyses of the study painting contributed to a dossier of information about Reinhardt’s working methods and earlier restoration techniques. These findings are essential to the understanding of how one perceives an imageless surface of flat planes of color, how an artist’s hand (or lack thereof) confers meaning, and how one can define the essential criteria for a painting’s authenticity.

Imageless takes the viewer into the world of the conservator as forensic scientist to uncover the mystery hidden beneath the monochromatic black painting. The cutting-edge technologies used in this research project are being tested to expand the current repertoire of conservation techniques. Science, art, and perception co-mingle in this exploration of the motivation of the artist, materials of the painting, and possible treatment and preservation strategies for artworks that rely on unattenuated surfaces to convey meaning. The inherent fragility of these paintings challenges conservators to maintain a flawless surface while adhering to a stringent code of ethics. For comparative viewing and appreciation of the subtleties of surface, Imageless concludes with a selection of Reinhardt’s black paintings. Presented in low light levels in accordance with the artist’s intent, the paintings offer a rare opportunity to appreciate Reinhardt’s extraordinary technique and meet the perceptual challenges so often neglected by the casual museum visitor.

This exhibition is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s Conservation Department in collaboration withthe Sackler Center for Arts Education.

Made possible by a generous grant from AXA Art Insurance Corporation and AXA Foundation.