Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rothko at Tate Modern

The crowd at the Tate Modern’s Rothko members private view seemed more up-scale than for Bacon at Tate Britain; also, there seemed to be lot more people. Do people just like Rothko more, or does Tate Modern’s greater popularity affect the turn out?

I was really concerned, as the first few rooms are small and there were heaving swarms of people (queues to get in again!), that Rothko’s quietly numinous paintings would wilt in the onslaught. But in the third room Rothko triumphed.

This very large room is basically an expanded Tate “Rothko Room”: the 9 Tate Seagram paintings and the others from the series brought together especially for this show all together at last. They look perfectly amazing: this has to be one of the most beautiful rooms in London at the moment, and single-handedly makes this show a must-see. The paintings hang high, in dim light, and are subtle variations in maroons, reds and greys. The crowd was noisily milling about in the centre of the room, but thank heavens the arty Tate members mostly wear black – an excellent colour choice on this occasion, not interfering with any of the art.

The other late paintings are disappointing, in that he steadily bled all colour out of them (foolishly and vainly responding to criticism that he was too ‘decorative’); of course ending up on flat-lining greys and blacks has allowed everyone to retrospectively see a progress towards suicide. While this may not be so (certainly, I would be suicidal if I had to paint a series of all-black masterpieces), certainly aesthetically he had reached the end of the road – where to after all black??

Tate Modern
26 September 2008 - 1 February 2009

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