How to Look at Modern Art by Ad Reinhardt

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In this famous cartoon of 1946 Ad Reinhardt tried to encapsulate the essence of the artistic modernism with its history and inherent conflicts within the American context. The tree of modern art has its roots deep in history – the Greeks are here, and so are Persian miniatures and Japanese prints. The roots represent the four pillars of Post-Impressionism: Vincent Van Gogh, George Seurat, Paul Cezanne, and Paul Gauguin. The tree is burdened by the weights of “subject matter” and “business as art patron,” and a cartoon within the cartoon mocks the perpetual debate of representation versus abstraction. By juxtaposing business and art, Reinhardt aptly comments on the situation of the avant-garde in the United States, where the public and, more importantly, the patrons were rather biased against the abstract art, often calling it “degenerate” and “subversive.””

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