Ad Reinhardt - Posthumous Control Freak

The Guggenheim has an exhibit up now devoted to conservationist efforts to keep Ad Reinhardt paintings smooth and black for all eternity. It is more than a little nuts. A wall placard explains that in life Reinhardt was a teacher and therefore above the crude economics of buying and selling paintings. His abstractions aspired to spiritual and physical purity and the placard actually uses the pre-postmodern word "timeless." The rest of the exhibit shows how state of the art science is used to analyze the paint and varnish layers so they can be repaired to a state of perpetual newness (e.g., using laser-induced spectroscopy "to burn off submicron layers").

All this technology and research costs oodles of money and not surprisingly, that's what the paintings are now worth. There is something more than a bit decadent about the process of creating art that is almost impossible to keep free of scuffs and scratches and then doing whatever is necessary to keep it on life support. The exhibit, full of diagrams, photo blowups, and actual cut up "test paintings" fascinates in the degree to which it reveals an industry of extreme neurosis.