Friday, September 24, 2010

Notes on Rothko

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969, Collection of Christopher Rothko
I thought it was a frame blending beautifully with the stark white wall. A white frame for a Rothko painting works great, I thought. Walking closer towards Untitled, 1969, I realized Rothko had taped off the edges of the canvas, creating a flatter, print on paper like impression of the painting. This was the first time I stood before a late Rothko. To see it reproduced in a book does this piece, or any of his paintings, no justice. This horizontal painting of stacked black and gray rectangles had movement and atmosphere, despite the hard line of color separation. The bottom portion, made up of two grays, one cool one warm, shows Rothko's brush work dancing vividly across the canvas. There is more action in this section of the painting than I had anticipated. When I think of the paintings from this period I tend to see dark flat spaces that sit still on a wall, no movement, color, or atmosphere emanating from them. This doesn't mean that they aren't any less than his brightly colored "classic" style works. They are more quiet, perhaps a bit melancholic and visibly minimalist. Two dominant gray tones did not take away Rothko's sense of drama, encountering a large dark canvas, like the ones in the Rothko Chapel, can be menacing to some, and to others they are a revelation. In the darkness of his colors there's still a warm glow reaching out to the viewer prolonging the time we spend looking at them. As I stood admiring a "flat" painting of rectangles, while skeptics leaned close, looked at the label on the wall and laughed. There is no shock or point of view that's blatantly spell out for the viewer, the painting reveals itself to those who are willing to see it, to optically peel away the layers of color.
Rothko's Untitled, 1969 is on view at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea as part of the exhibit 50 Years at Pace.

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