In 1946, Ad Reinhardt began a series of art comics for P.M. magazine. How to Look collects these pages, along with some of Reinhardt’s other work on the same theme.
It’s a crisp, white, book with beautifully-reproduced plates.
Nice as that is, I wish it had been published as a newsprint zine — something I could tear up and take with me. (I’ve been meaning to Xerox these for a while now.)
“How to Look at Modern Art in America” is perhaps the best-known piece in the book — Reinhardt’s revision of Alfred Barr’s famous art chart. Here he presents the reader with a ”guide to the galleries” — a critical (and at times sniping) account of the contemporary art scene in 1946.
Satire often dulls over time, but in this case the edge remains sharp. At the top of the page, Reinhardt offers some blank “extra leaves” for the tree, just in case we’d like to add some names of our own. It wouldn’t be hard to build out every branch with a new roster of today’s artists — a “guide to the galleries” of 2014.
Reinhardt is tough on art-talk, gallery-chatter, museum-pomposity. But for a knowing 21st-century reader, the critique could seem so familiar as to be exhausting.
We’ve all heard that one — or think we have.
But if the tone of the comics is funny, wry, harsh, the intention behind them is fundamentally sincere. The pages are titled just as they ought to be. Reinhardt here provides lessons on “How to Look” (and look carefully) at patterns, at murals, at iconography, at space, houses, objects.
“The spiral is a mustache and a mountain and a molehill, a ram’s horn, an octopus-tentacle….”
Well sure, of course. But though you always saw these objects, perhaps you never really looked at them.
Taking time to play the game — to find the spiral in each small drawing — becomes a little exercise in perception.
And exercise is good for you. (Later in the day, spirals seem to be everywhere.)
You could spend a long time on these. John Berger in a dark mood.
I’m not being cute about the Xeroxes. I’m thinking page per subway ride should be about right.