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Wednesday 05.16.07

« Habit Forming at PNCA | Main | Mississippi:May »

Complicated Complications

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko (who grew up and trained as an artist here in Portland) just shattered the auction record for contemporary work... he would have hated this. Some day Portland will have a major Rothko of its own on display, dammit! Oh well, if his works keep setting records I half expect Rothko's ghost to show up and get all "Raiders of the Lost Ark ending" on the auction houses. At the same time it's probably worth the price paid.

Back onto the art, I really enjoyed Peter Schjeldahl's take on Chris Burden. I like how he highlights how Burden was taking pains to be taken seriously as an artist. Most artists who admire Burden don't do the same thing, they just reference his work and do something much easier to do. The difference between Burden and Burden-lite is a sense of earning the attention by truly polarizing people rather than just trying to use the conceptual as a form of insinuation or secret handshake of initiation. Just hanging out or referencing Burden isn't in the same league. Burden put the viewer on the spot so well you don't have to have seen it to feel uncomfortable. Successful art is often complicated, great art simly is complicating... a radical agitator like Burden is a great example.

Also, Schjeldahl's take on Hopper pinpoints why he's such a useful writer (at least on completely established, major artists), he's an accessible but challenging wordsmith. Schjeldahl complicates very strong work with equally deserving words. The only wordsmith better is Hickey, whose just scary even when he's not convincing (which has it's own curse).

Tyler Green is probably right, the Hirshhorn is perfect for Wolfgang Tillmans. But is it a crutch? Is the installation the selling point or just packaging for the blockbuster? Now I dont think Tillmans is fluff he's real good. His more abstract stuff is consistently dazzling as are some of the portraits and still lives, but is the entertainer/installer upstaging the photographer from time to time? Does that matter?...maybe not, since the installations are often so good. Here's what I wrote on the show last year at the MCA.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on May 16, 2007 at 14:13 | Comments (6)


Rothko might also hate the way his piece is hung at PAM. Total stinker. At the corner of that strange hallway gallery next to the thermostat box. It is a really pretty little painting though. That glowing coral color...

Posted by: Kristan Kennedy [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2007 05:31 PM

The funny thing is I think Rothko might have preferred that thermostat to having another artist's work next to his. He was such an iconoclast. You read his writings and its just like listening in on a Portland coffee shop conversation.

It's true PAM needs a general reinstall that is less cluttered (which costs $$$ to do, if they get a nice donation of several major works it would be a good time to pull it off).

Some of the install is awesome though(like the Longo and Gilbert & George combo) so I'm not gonna tell anyone how to do their... still it would be nice to see that tiny Rothko within eyshot of that great David Smith in the AbEx room, etc. Very happy that the Paul Klee is back on display. It would be ideal for PAM to have a Rothko room (which Rothko seemeed to prefer) but unless somone has several they want to give PAM it sees like a pipe dream.... sighs.

I know people who have found early Rothko's at garage sales in Portland though. He grew up her and had his first majorsolo show at PAM, it seems like a shame we dont have him better represented... but at 72.8 big ones I cant see a local private collector making it happen.... sighs.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 11:53 AM

Jeff, Good point! Even that little one in a room of its own would be lovely. Do they have any spare closets over there at PAM... Yes we are all plauged with the same issue, space and $, space and $ , space and $. I had a great time walking through the museum this weekend. Still my favorite thing in the whole place is that silver boar.

Posted by: Kristan Kennedy [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 04:27 PM

First the Chapel got it quite right, then The Tate followed suit. Even folk singer Dar Williams wrote about the magic of space according to Rothko in her song "The Honesty Room". This sense of mythical spirit, of separateness, continually calls for the float of white space.

Posted by: TJ Norris [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 18, 2007 06:06 PM

The Rothko Chapel in Houston is a must see - talk about an incredible space. But the most incredible experience I've had with a Rothko was at the Smart Museum at The University of Chicago. I was waiting for the main lights to be turned on (I worked there VERY briefly), and spent a minute or so looking at a Rothko in very dim light. It glowed -- even in the filtered darkness -- and I though I understood what I was looking at. But when the lights came on, the painting transformed into completely different colors, intensity, everything. Astonishing to see -- but really helped me understand the depth of the layers of color, the way he understood the relationship between the materials and light. I'd forgotten about that experience until reading this series of posts!

Posted by: Namita Wiggers [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 19, 2007 07:25 PM

Yes, Rothko preferred low lighting and low cielings... and a room to himself. I consider that to be the single most ambitious and intelligent thing that PAM could do... create a Sir Norman Foster-esque galss structure bridging the north wing and the Belluschi building... in it would be a black box gallery with 9 or more classic Rothko's in lower light.

Probably the only way to make it happen is the Rothko Foundation and that isnt an easy thing to pull off (restrictions, restrictions). That space also has to let pedestrians travel through it.

It makes a hell of a lot more sense than the Still museum in Denver. One can't look at Portland skies without understandinghow that is must have effected his sense of color as volume and depth.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2007 12:46 PM

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