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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hidden treasures: the Doodles of Ad Reinhardt

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Several years ago, not long after I started working at the Archives of American Art, I needed to do some research in the Ad Reinhardt papers. I was looking for information to flesh out the biographical information we had for him. Besides the info I found, I also discovered a new favorite artist.

Ad Reinhardt is an Abstract painter who painted geometric designs, often focusing on the same shape in different shades of the same color. Even though I’m partial to paintings exploring shape and color, it was the doodles I found in Reinhardt's correspondence with Selina Trieff that made him one of my favorite artists.

Mr. Reinhardt seems to have loved playing with letters. He’d rearrange the letters of a person’s name to form humorous faces and figures.
Ad Reinhardt birthday card to Selina Trieff, 1955 Feb. 3

 Or he’d play with shapes of a letter repeating them multiple times to make a simple greeting like “Happy Halloween” into a beautiful, if somewhat cryptic, almost code-like line. 

Ad Reinhardt postcard to Selina Trieff, 1957 Oct. 24

I love the playful and whimsical feel of these postcards. It makes me think he had a sense of humor I’d enjoy and would have been a fun conversationalist. Those doodles turned him into someone to whom I could relate rather than an “eminent figure in the art world.”

It also inspired me to try making faces out of the letters of people’s names. It was a month or so before Christmas and all my relatives got presents with tags on them with little faces made out of the letters of their names.The tags were a big hit and I told everyone I got the idea from Mr. Reinhardt.

--Michelle McDaniel is an archival cataloger for the Archives of American Art.


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