My first brush with the work of Ad Reinhardt occurred during the mid-1950s. I was working for Knoll Associates (the furniture company) on 57th Street in New York. The New York galleries largely surrounded the Knoll showroom and I became a frequent visitor. One evening I arrived at the Sidney Janis Gallery to preview an exhibition of work by Willem de Kooning. It was a loud joyful affair with, it seemed to me, every major artist then in New York attending. After some time I left the gallery, walked down towards the elevator corridor, and peered into the Betty Parsons Gallery. Seated on a bench in the center of the gallery was Betty herself, her secretary, and Ad Reinhardt. The opening previewed a series of Ad’s black paintings. Since they looked over at me I felt compelled to enter the gallery and slowly made my way looking at one painting after another. Not another soul was in the gallery and after making my mind up that this was a sham exhibition I quietly left.
In 1957, I left New York and went to Los Angeles and opened the Ferus Gallery. In the ’60s the gallery I admired was called the Dwan Gallery and was owned by Virginia Dwan who was showing work by Ad Reinhardt. Her second Reinhardt exhibition, during the early ’60s, of work by Ad was impressive. By then the term monochrome was familiar and you could put Reinhardt in context. I went to a Dwan Gallery dinner, sat down beside Reinhardt and had a completely sparkling and brilliant conversation with him.
During 1965 I arrived in New York (one of my annual trips) and called Ad. He was charming and kindly invited me to visit his studio. I went immediately. I walked in and past a 12-foot vertical painting turned face to the wall and dated 1955. “What’s that painting doing here?” I asked. “It was painted 10 years ago.” Ad told me it was finished in 1955. However, recently he was thinking about it and had it sent over from his storage. “Can I look at it with you?” I asked. He quickly turned it around and I found myself looking at a great, early black and brown masterpiece. After a while I screwed up my courage and asked Ad if he would consider selling it. “Do you want it for yourself or for your gallery?” he asked. “For myself,” I said. “Yes, I will sell it to you,” Ad said. “What sort of money do you want for it?” I managed to ask. Ad looked at me and said, “What will hurt you?” I knew the painting had a value of about $5,000 at that time. However I said, “I want the painting for myself not for the gallery and $2,000 would hurt me but is doable.” “That’s the price of the painting,” Ad responded. And that is the story of my acquiring a masterpiece by Ad Reinhardt. I still own it.
IRVING BLUM is an art dealer and collector in New York and Los Angeles.