There is Skippy, Rice Krispies, and Ad Reinhardt. Skippy is the peanut butter that goes on smooth, Rice Krispies, the cereal that goes snap-crackle-pop, and Ad Reinhardt, the guy who paints black squares. How cruel and frail this image is. How patched with stupidity, museum education, and time our artistic icons are. Ad Reinhardt was much more. He was a great agitator who showed the art world its own ass. He was a writer whose correspondence revealed a man, understandably horrified, sending his ethics everywhere. The notes that follow wouldn’t be so special, were they not also so self-annihilating and full of doubt. Say what you will about the miracle of unyielding confidence—I consider a capacity for certainty terrifying. Taken together, these notes approach an idea, I suppose, that art itself might be the supreme theme of art. I don’t know whether that’s a cause for despair. Probably it is. But all the same I read them with a long inhalation of affection. The first time, I cried. I remember the magnification of a funny tear on the letter’s plastic sleeve, the enlargement of the “m in “meaning is for morons, made so big and dumb and perfect.
Robert Snowden is curator at Yale Union in Portland, Oregon. In 2011, he and his friend Scott Ponik organized a retrospective of Ad Reinhardt’s comics at the ICA in London and the Chrysler Building in NY.