Monday, 29 September 2008

Rothko, Tate Modern

A strong show. There's not the consistency of the other 20th century titan blockbuster down the road but the centrepiece, the expanded collection of Seagram murals, is the ticket price in one room.

Mark Rothko was a sort of paint synaesthetic. These dark but pulsing canvases aren't the masterworks of a great colourist so much as of a great technician. Where similar works by Ad Reinhardt or Josef Albers throw colours together with a great clang (right), the surfaces of Rothko's pulse and shimmer, changing in the light like taffeta or steel.

The Tate have done a good job examining the pictures (and a poor one of exhibiting their findings) using bright and ultra violet light to expose the build and execution processes and different composite colours and textures. When one can actually get to it, the detail of Black on Maroon, 1958 is very instructive.

One doesn't need to be forearmed to have an exchange with these paintings though. As mentioned, the Seagram collection is wonderful and well exhibited. There were well-over a hundred people in the gallery when I visited and no-one was in another's way. I particularly like the single-square form paintings (the west wall) which are exemplars of the multi-textural approach to rendering the form, sheer and glossy.

I hadn't thought about it before but the polyoblong-form paintings reminded me of the hospital door studies of Gary Hume or the famous elevator in The Shining, gushing blood in a dreadful magic realist sequence.

My favourite paintings are currently the Black-Form paintings which look entirely black but which are built up (colourwise) with deep indigo and maroon as well as black. These are the canvas equivalents of (more Kubrick) the mysterious obelisk-antennae from 2001: A Space Odyssey - void of content but undeniably alive when viewed.

I am looking forward to going again, not least to try with the Black On Gray sequence which didn't grab me (although I was reminded of Goya's The Dog, a desolate, almost-abstract masterpiece of the latter's 'black' series from the early 1800s in their form and brushwork).

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