Monday, October 20, 2008

Rothko at Tate Modern

With great anticipation I visited the Rothko exhibition on Saturday (18th October). A painter who has held considerable fascination for me since I read his biography on holiday last year. At the time of my visit I have to confess I had forgotten the precise means of Rothko's demise. So what you may ask, you need to read on to find out!

Given the publicity that this new exhibition at Tate Modern has received there can be few people unaware of the idiosyncrasies of Rothko as an artist or the mysticism associated with his work. Or the fact that many are moved to tears by his work. Would I be?

Rothko painted in isolation and rarely explained or discussed his work, an isolation that added a mystery and an intrigue to his paintings. Something which taunted the art world long before his tragic death in 1970.

Possibly Rothko's most idiosyncratic stunt was to take on a commission to paint a series of gigantic works to decorate the imposing and expensive restaurant of New Yorks grand Seagram's building. But he never delivered, instead he donated the work to the Tate Gallery, the catalyst for this new exhibition. But why did he take on the Seagrams commission and why did he not complete it?

According to a journalist, John Fischer of Harpers Magazine, who bumped into Rothko in the bar of a transatlantic liner; Rothko's reasons for taking on the commission where subversive. He confessed that he wanted to upset, offend and torture the diners at the Four Seasons. "I hope to ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room," he gloated, "with paintings that will make those rich bastards feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up"[1].

After 30 minutes in Gallery 4 of the Tate Modern, I felt trapped and overcome by the most overwhelming feeling of depression, to the point were under my breath I told myself that If I did not get out of the place, there and then, I might end up slashing my wrists.

Rothko killed himself by deeply slashing both arms at the elbow. I now know why!

[1] Feeding Fury, Jonathan Jones, Guardian 7 Dec 2002:
Accessed 19.10.2002

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