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Researching Reinhardt

May 15, 2014 11:58 AM | 0 comments

If reports are to be believed, Brooklyn has been undergoing some kind of ground-shaking cultural renaissance for the past ten or twenty years. The borough -- once sleepy, then neglected -- is now a ballyhooed land barnacled with oft-parodied "artisanal" this-and-that shops, awash in alternative art-spaces, and peppered with the black and white "gear" of our recently dispatched cagers. Brooklyn is it! Brooklyn is cool! Brooklyn is a global brand, a baby's name! But if you Google "Brooklyn is" you will also see the gloomy auto-fill death of this shangrila not too far off on the horizon.  Right beside those proud paeans to the borough's hipness you'll also find this Google-generated sour epitaph: "Brooklyn is over." But before we go throwing dirt on our home and, here at the Brooklyn Collection, raison d'etre, let's take a look back at another link in the long chain of Brooklyn's cultural relevance, even if it is a link that was forged in Queens (undoubtedly New York's Coolville of the future).

We recently received a very generous donation of Brooklyn Dodger material from a life-long collector, Mr. Al Todres. The gift is largely comprised of the kind of ephemera that would have been swirling around any devoted fan's house: magazines, newsletters, lapel pins, ticket stubs, programs, and team yearbooks -- all of the little things that give so much color to the historical record.

The two images here are both scans of team yearbooks from the 1941 and 1942 seasons. And though these yearbooks are noteworthy because they commemorate remarkable seasons (in 1941 the Dodgers clinched their first pennant in 21 years, and in 1942 they ran a close second to the Cardinals, who won 106 to the Dodgers' 104 games) they are particularly noteworthy because of the young man who designed them.

It might be hard to see, but there beneath the disembodied hand and varied typeface (the disembodied hand and varied typeface which he chose) is the name of one of America's most notable post-war painters:

Not unlike the sighting of a yet-to-be heralded Richard Avedon in the pages of The Helm and The Mast, here we have a still unknown 28-year-old aspiring painter and day-job designer for the Brooklyn Dodgers named Adolph (Ad) Reinhardt. Curious to learn if Reinhardt grew up in Brooklyn, I headed upstairs to the Arts and Music division to see what I could find.

In this collection of Reinhardt's writings you'll find a (very funny) chronology of the artist's life written by the artist himself where we discover the following:

1913: Born, New York, Christmas Eve, nine months after Armory Show. (Father leaves "Old country" for America in 1907 after serving in Tsar Nicholas' army. Mother leaves Germany in 1909.)
1913: Malevich paints first geometric-abstract painting.
1914: Matisse paints
"Port-Fenetre, Collioure."
1914 Mondrian begins "plus-minus" paintings.
1915: Gets crayons for birthday, copies "funnies," Moon Mullins, Krazy Kat, and Barney Google.
1916 Juan Gris paints "Dish of Fruit"
1916 Dada in Zurich.
1917 Cuts up newspapers. Tears pictures out of books.
1917 October Revolution in Russia. Lenin replaces Kerensky.
1918 Malevich paints
"White on White"
1918 Peace. World War I ends.
1919: Enters Public Grade School No. 88, Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, Queens.

To see exactly where in Ridgewood Reinhardt lived, I checked census records on Ancestry.com (free here at the library!) and found the following listing from a 1930 record:

That's 16 year old Ad Reinhardt third from the top. And though you can't see it here, the family is listed as residing at 2529 Madison St. in Ridgewood, Queens. But when I check Google maps to see where exactly 2529 Madison Street is I turn up nothing. Google is flummoxed. Paging through our atlases I also come up empty-handed. This part of Ridgewood is a bit too far into Queens to be captured by our Brooklyn-only atlas collection. Hitting nothing but dead ends, I see if I can't get a general idea of his whereabouts on Madison Street through the Enumeration District listed on the 1930 census. In the upper right hand corner you can find the ED for each page's listing of inhabitants; in Reinhardt's case it is 41-611. Going back into Ancestry.com I search their Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers database and find the Enumeration Districts for 1940 (close enough for our purposes) and turn up this:

From this rather bleary map, it would be my guess that Reinhardt lived somewhere on that block of Madison which I have circled in red. There are no addresses on this map, but the houses here were very likely in that 611 district. Here's how Google's ubiqutous eye saw this block back in 2012.

From here, Reinhardt need only walk 6 short blocks to PS 88. However, proximity, and the Dodger yearbooks above, were not Reinhardt's only connection to Brooklyn. As his chronology plainly states, 1947 saw the beginning of Reinhardt's teaching career at Brooklyn College and, as luck would have it, we have a few yearbooks from his time there. Below we see an arms-crossed Reinhardt surrounded by his colleagues in the 1951 Broeklundian.

And here's a close-up of the artist/professor from the 1954 yearbook.

And lastly, in a very Reinhardt-esque collage, we see the artist's head, along with those of the other Art Department instructors, stationed like statuary in Panini's Gallery of Views of Ancient Rome. (Reinhardt's is the large, topmost head just off center).

And though Reinhardt is perhaps best known for his weighty, abstract black paintings, he was also a talented and prolific comic artist (all those years of copying out Krazy Kat must have amounted to something!) and both of these modes were recently on display at a large show of his work at a Manhattan gallery back in late 2013. But if you missed that, you can always come by the Collection to have a peek at these Dodger yearbooks, where you'll find a number of gems like the ones reproduced below:

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