Rothko at the Tate Modern
Red on Maroon, Rothko, 1959, My all-time favourite from the artist
Like half of London, I went to see the unmissable Mark Rothko’s exhibition at the Tate Modern lately. I don’t know about other visitors but I didn’t know so much about Rothko’s work, except that his late work mainly included large straps of colours on canvas was classified as abstract expressionism – although apparently the American painter despised this classification.
I have been asked many times why would someone pay a tenner (£10.30 for STUDENTS) to see an abstract painting that a child could reproduce. I am not going to give you arguments to go and see the exhibition because it is a matter of taste first and foremost and secondly I cannot say that Rothko is my favourite painter.
I am going to give you the impressions that a true Rothko amateur felt when visiting the exhibition, and it will therefore hopefully be more unbiased than other views. The truth is I was very intrigued.
The first impression when walking into the large rooms is one of being a small human being in front of large-scale art. A little like in front of a pyramid. Not that I ever actually been in front of a pyramid.
The second impression is that one needs time in front of the painting to understand it, interpret it and appreciate it. I like the idea. It’s not the kind of exhibition you can walk quickly into and spend 2 seconds in front of each piece of art. You need to engage with them, and I like the thinking process that it entails. You need to sit down and watch, it pleases your eyes and eases your mind. AND you might not even get bored! The painter had been working on variation on a theme, in terms of shapes, style and colour series:
‘If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again – exploring it, probing it, demanding by its repetition that the public look at it.’
Finally, most paintings are unbelievably versatile and open to interpretation. The colours change according to the distance with the viewer, the angle one looks at it, the lighting, the layers. More than interesting, Rothko’s massive pieces are powerful, they call for respect and humbleness.
Was Rothko so humble though when he decided the experience of his pieces would be spoilt by displaying them in the dining room they were originally made for – the Seagram building on New York’s Park Avenue? The endless debate on accessibility, popularisation and display of art in general.
Visit the fantastic Tate’s website for a virtual tour of the exhibition until 1 February 2009.