I wrote in 2011: “It frustrates me to no end that there isn’t an easily available collection of Reinhardt’s cartoons. They’re so brilliant.”
…long before Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg took shots at the high-mindedness of the postwar American avant-garde, Ad Reinhardt (1913-67) was blasting away from a privileged vantage in the middle of the fray. A wise-cracking contrarian whose penchant for dialectics would not allow him to hold any position he could not later undermine, he was a consummate art-world insider and a fierce defender of abstract painting. At the same time, his ingrained populism made him suspicious of the rhetoric and institutional power brokering that supports any art elite.
His visual and verbal assaults took their most lasting form in a series of cartoons and satires, done mainly for the liberal New York newspaper PM in the late 1940’s and for ArtNews in the early 1950’s…
The critic Thomas Hess wrote in a booklet for the 1975 edition that Reinhardt’s lampoons are ”like precious containers of the air of New York, 1946-61.” They are also like core samples from the artist’s brain, revealing a side of his personality not apparent in his canvases. Using cutouts from 19th-century illustrated books and periodicals, as well as line drawings and hand-drawn dialogue balloons, he concocted a style in which the surrealism of J. J. Grandville and Max Ernst was inflected with a tough Queens accent.
One of his recurring panels shows a stick figure pointing at a canvas of crisscrossed lines and asking, ”What does this represent?” The indignant painting, having grown eyes, a mouth, arms and legs, punches him in the jaw and answers with an even more aggressively New York question, ”What do you represent?’”
In the 16-panel ”How to Look at Art-Talk,” from 1946, he continues the question-answer format. ”Isn’t abstract art ‘just a design,’ just ‘composition,’ just an empty bucket into which one can drop some subject matter?” asks a young woman wearing a blindfold. To which her companion answers bluntly, ”No.”