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Thursday 07.23.09

« Skinvisible | Main | Willamette transit bridge design update »

The Rothko Bridge?

Tomorrow, Willamette Transit Bridge architect Donald MacDonald will address Portland's design community at a sold out (i.e. capacity) crowd at AiA's Portland Office. A few weeks ago PORT broke the story on the new"A" bridge and it was further expanded on by Bike Portland and Portland Architecture... given the massive traffic we got, I suspect there will be more media types at the meeting tomorrow.
Very preliminary view of option "A" transit bridge design

Mark Rothko, 1961 © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel &Christopher Rothko / VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2008

But before that I'd like to propose something that PORT staffers have been talking about for years, the City of Portland needs to acknowledge its most famous and noteworthy resident, Mark Rothko, in a major way. Ironically, Rothko's place in history is assured as one of the twentieth century's greatest artists but he is generally unknown or unacknowledged by the city he grew up in . (A city which now boasts a strong international level art and design scene). It is an embarrassing omission, which demands attention.

I believe the new Multi-Use Willamette River Transit Bridge is an ideal candidate to be named after Rothko. This is especially fitting since the artist spent considerable time crossing back and forth across the Willamette and frequently painted the very location of the new bridge.

For more information, Rothko's time in Portland was assiduously studied by our own Arcy Douglass here. I believe his sense of tragedy and atmospherics can in part be directly attributed to growing up under Portland's dramatic skies and life shaping events like his father's death. What's more he had his first major solo show at the Portland Art Museum.

Lastly, I don't think the bridge needs to look like a Rothko painting or anything hokey like that, but it is an important way for the city to rediscover its history through planning for the future (via the bridge). It could also be a stepping stone towards some sort of Rothko museum in Portland. Currently the Portland Art Museum has only one small but mature watercolor by the artist but maybe a creative loan program with the National Gallery of Art, which has some 500+ Rothkos could make something happen? (Thanks to Tyler Green for the idea) This loan idea is key, since Rothko's mature paintings are easily some of the most expensive works by any painter... thus, even a multi-billionaire could hope to acquire only a couple of his works.

Let's take first steps first though, and acknowledge the man from Portland, with a bridge.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 23, 2009 at 13:31 | Comments (2)


I'm not sure if I understand the necessity of naming a bridge after Rothko, but I can definitely understand the need for a Rothko museum. We certainly have a landscape that induces staring, contemplation, and appreciation, similar to a painting by Rothko. There must be someone in Portland with an exorbitant amount of money and an appreciation for Rothko that could support the creation of a museum.

Posted by: Calvin Ross Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 24, 2009 07:59 PM

Because civic acknowledgment is the first step to other things, also:

#1 there aren't that many Rothko works available on the market at any price so assembling a museum is very difficult... even with unlimited funds.

#2 patrons of that means and mind are not exactly plentiful

#3 the city needs to acknowledge Rothko in a way that will remind the civic body he in fact grew up here... that usually means renaming a street or park... or naming a bridge. A bridge is better than a park or street because it is an iconic object that is less easy to ignore. Also, this bridge will be right downtown... think of it as a bridge to Portland's future and past.

#4 Rothko crossed the Willamette countless times, going from family owned businesses to where he lived. If this bridge had existed in his time it is likely the one he would have chosen often (considering his frequent destinations). He painted the location of this new bridge numerous times (usually from Pill Hill).

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2009 08:38 AM

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