Sep 22, 2008

Rothko

Rothko,  26 September - 1 February, Tate Modern

On the occasion of Tate Modern's first Rothko retrospective in more than 20 years -- it seems a good opportunity for an extensive Rothko post. There are three links first one is to the Tate Modern's page for the show. There are two articles by Guardian's Jonathan Jones: one covering his visit to The Rothko Chapel, and second a fascinating article regarding the circumstances for The Seagram"s Murals eventual landing at Tate Modern. Stressing the importance of this show and the significance of the Murals.

You will also get a great utility developed by National Gallery of Art, Washington, which by the way houses the most extensive Rothko collection in the world. Plus a little flash slide show of my personal favorites.


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Ambushed by Rothko

He was one of the 20th century's greatest artists, whose hypnotic paintings grew darker and darker. Jonathan Jones travels to Texas to take in Mark Rothko's final, misunderstood masterpiece - a haunting chapel the artist never lived to see

Mark Rothko

Darkness dawns ... Rothko at work in 1961. Photograph: © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2008

'Can you see it?" says the man in the Hawaiian shirt, pointing up at the purple canvas towering over us. "I've never been here before," he says, his shirt standing out wildly in the cool grey of the octagonal concrete room. "But I saw it in a matter of minutes. Can you see the figure of Jesus Christ our Lord on the Cross?"

I look politely into the misty bloom of the gigantic abstract work. It contains no images whatsoever, Christian or otherwise. I mumble something noncommittal, and he goes around pointing out Christ to everyone else in the room. They soon leave. I walk around staring at one colossal rectangle of sombre colour after another. A student comes in and kneels before a vast triptych that people choose to see as an altarpiece.

This is the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Art surrounds you here. Paintings on a majestic scale dominate each of its eight walls. There is little to interrupt their power, just the bare plaster, a few benches, and a couple of cushions on the floor. There are doorways, but they don't lead anywhere, except into a tiny alcove containing nothing. Their presence simply adds to the eeriness of this place, illuminated only by a skylight that softens the fierce afternoon sun. I am here on a pilgrimage to the greatest marriage of art and architecture in the US. But is this journey about art - or religion? The Rothko Chapel was designed to house the paintings of the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, but it is also a sacred space, a non-denominational place of worship.

The chapel houses one of the two greatest cycles of Rothko paintings. The other is at the Tate Modern in London. On February 25 1970 .....Read more

Feeding Fury

Mark Rothko was an unknown abstract expressionist when he won a plum commission - to provide paintings for New York's swankiest restaurant. So why did he pull out and give them to the Tate? Jonathan Jones investigates

The Seagram murals at Tate Modern

The Seagram murals at Tate Modern. Photo: David Sillitoe

Mark Rothko was found on the morning of February 25 1970, lying dead in a wine-dark sea of his own blood. He had cut very deep into his arms at the elbow, and the pool emanating from him on the floor of his studio measured 8ft x 6ft. That is, it was on the scale of his paintings. It was, to borrow the art critical language of the time, a colour field.

New York had a charge sheet a mile long by that time when it came to killing artists, especially painters of Rothko's generation - the abstract expressionists, the epic and baffling, rhetorical and silent, introspective and dazzling movement whose intensity and originality made Manhattan the capital of modernism in the middle of the 20th century. Suicide had already taken Arshile Gorky in 1948. Jackson Pollock was killed in a possibly suicidal drunken car crash in 1956. Another dubiously accidental car crash saw to the sculptor David Smith in 1965. Rothko looked like one of the survivors, and was even insidiously caricatured as a careerist, a bit of a fraud, who had turned the rigour and extremism of abstract expressionist painting into something luscious, colourful, decorative and profitable - until that morning in 1970.

Rothko's death changed everything. It transformed the meaning of his work, gave every encounter with his painting a terrible gravity. It fooled the cursory eye, putting Rothko's motivation so apparently on the surface, so visibly in the public domain, that it made it hard ever to think about him again with any subtlety.

His death also ensured that a puzzle at the heart of his painting would never be solved. For Rothko's contract with society was not torn up that day in 1970, but a decade earlier, in 1959. That was when Rothko suddenly and unexpectedly repudiated his agreement to provide 600 square feet of paintings for the most exclusive room in the new Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York - the most prestigious public commission that had ever been awarded to an abstract expressionist painter, a tremendously lucrative and enviable chance to take his work to new heights of ambition.

Jackson Pollock had attained the freedom and grace of his dripped and flung paintings for just a few years, when he was newly married and off the bottle, until one day he started drinking again and was set on a spiral of destruction. Rothko's crisis over the Seagram murals was comparable. It was his finest moment, and yet also the end of his uneasy truce with success, happiness and America. Afterwards, his life and art unravelled - the life disastrously, the art with a terrible beauty, becoming ever more open in its dealings with death.

The enigma of Rothko's Four Seasons murals is especially urgent for us, the British art public, because we have accidentally ended up as Rothko's heirs. There are not many bona fide masterpieces of modern painting in Britain. Especially, we don't have many great paintings by the abstract expressionists - with a glorious exception. ..........Read More