For some 13 years, from 1954 until his death, the abstract painter Ad Reinhardt sent poetic illustrated notes and postcards to Olga Sheirr, with whom he had an intermittent love affair. Nearly 90 of them will be on view in an exhibition, “In the Minds of Me,” at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center from May 1 through July 24.
Each item is not only an intimate expression of Reinhardt’s affection for Sheirr, who had been a student of his at Brooklyn College before they became romantically involved, but also evidence of unexpected tenderness. Known as the “black monk” of the New York School, Reinhardt was a notorious purist who often took pot shots at his fellow abstractionists. His “How to Look at Art” series of cartoons for the newspaper PM mixed sardonic humor with pointed criticism of the art world, and his reductive, nearly monochromatic paintings were purged of all non-aesthetic elements. “Art is Art,” he famously declared. “Everything else is everything else.”
The correspondence in the exhibit falls into the “everything else” category, related as it is to Reinhardt’s life outside the studio. He often wrote to Sheirr while she was traveling, and during his own trips to far-flung locales such as Asia and the Middle East—one card is signed, “Greetings from Allover.” Quirky word combinations and Joycean inventions abound, and Reinhardt’s calligraphic lettering makes the notes as visually intriguing as they are inventive. Several include pictograms of her first name, Olga, which was also his mother’s name. In one note, apparently written to cheer her up, he reassured her of his love: “You’re the eternal woman,” he wrote, “and you’re always in the minds of me.”
In May the museum is open for guided tours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays by appointment. Admission is $10, paid in advance. The exhibit is included in the tour. For appointments, call (631) 324-4929. For hours and admission information in June and July, please visit the museum’s Web site at www.pkhouse.org.
“In the Minds of Me” was organized by the Woodward Gallery, New York, where it was on view in November-December 2008. Olga Sheirr will lead a gallery tour of the exhibit on Sunday, June 27, at 5:00 pm.