Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

The Rodin experience at PAM
First Thursday Picks April 2017
Japanese Garden's Cultural Crosssing sets the bar
Not NCECA picks
Disjecta reboots with Shell
Monday Links
Art & Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon
Post Winter Artist Opps
Early March links
End of February Links
Weekend Picks
Alt-Perfect?

recent comments

categories

 

Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Essays
Interviews
News
Openings & Events
Photoblogs
Reviews
Video
Links
About PORT

regular contributors

 

Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman

archives

 

Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us

 

Contact us

search

 


syndicate

 

Atom
RSS

powered by

 

Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a

 

Creative Commons License

Monday 05.28.12

« Last Weekend of May 2012 | Main | Tuesday Links »

Final Thoughts on Rothko

Rothko_retrospective_Portland.jpg
Mark Rothko retrospective at the Portland Art Museum (all photos Jeff Jahn)

It is the last day for the Rothko Retrospective at the Portland Art Museum and though I've written on the Rothko retrospective frequently, and discussed on OPB's Think Out Loud radio program, even taught a seminar on the subject... it never becomes exhausted.

Though it is a very main line even predictable retrospective....read that as a Christopher Rothko style focus on the singular stylistic development achievements rather than a more complicated look at how artists and other thinkers like Miro, Matisse, Milton Avery, Adolpf Gottlieb and Clyfford Still all played a part in his still singular breakthrough, it is arguably the most important show the Portland Art Museum has put on since Rothko's first solo show in 1933 at that same institution. You should see it right now if you haven't already.

It is important because it is above all else, excellent. I cannot tell you how many artists and Portland art scenesters saw it as a moment of pride for their city. PAM has pulled off an unquestionably good show, something which many openly doubted was even possible. Thus, the show is a benchmark as a definite point of greatness. It will be the show by which everything else will be judged.

Rothko_Seegrams_Sketch_sm.jpg
Mark Rothko, Sketch for Seagrams building (1959) on loan from the National Gallery of Art

So what is my favorite work? It is easily the darker of the two sketches for the Seagrams Building project on view. I prefer its size and the close monochromatic tonal range. The Seagrams murals as they are called were an odd project where Rothko's ideals and the world's expectations collided head on. Notice how they are never called The Four Seasons Restaurant Murals? You see Rothko (ever the populist) thought he was doing a lobby for the Seams Building only to find he was doing decor for the upscale Four Seasons Restaurant. This gave him occasion to confront his own success, reputation and benefactors in a direct way.

Rothko_Seagrams_Sketch_Close_sm.jpg
Mark Rothko, detail of Sketch for Seagrams building (1959) on loan from the National Gallery of Art

This early sketch is much more muted and subtle than the the final versions and frankly I prefer it's depthless mysteries to the starker color contrasts of any of the finished panels. Even the peachy-orange under painting of the work only reveals itself at the edges of the canvas in the most muted understated way. As Rothko worked on the commission he rightly realized this setting was not the best for taking in subtleties and acted accordingly.

Eventually, he quit the commission as the project produced works simply too good for such a setting... and Rothko, ever the staunch social advocate just did not want to be the pet of the rich providing a backdrop as they sipped their soup.

It set the tone for the later Rothko chapel project but I prefer these earlier sketches for the Seagrams murals as his finest series of works? Why... because this is the point where Rothko is at the height of his powers, is just starting to see financial success but isn't in full revolt against it. Instead he has moved into a new phase in his life and just allowed to "be", and these paintings have a gusto and self assuredness that is tough to beat. To this day this particular work feels singular, with no phantom limb of a larger commission around it. For me it is complete and fulfilled... no wonder Rothko had to do other version... why paint a suite of paintings when one says it all?

It reminds me how great artists place greater demands on the world, patrons and institutions... asking them to raise their expectations and allow something to exist outside of prescribed roles (something artists like Olafur Eliasson and Cartsen Holler with their funhouse amusements do not). To this day Mark Rothko asks that we expect more, linger longer and embrace something unexpected... it is a message Portland needed to feel at this time. So fitting that its most famous son could deliver the message.

You have a few hours, go see this show... the city of Portland will be talking about it for decades to come. Perhaps PAM can work out an arrangement with the national gallery to have a few Major Rothko's on loan at all times in his boyhood home city as Tyler Green once suggested to me? Perhaps the next time PAM expands (by 2017?) a gallery designed specifically for presenting Rothko's paintings could be accomplished? That would be incredible... and fitting for the city where he came of age, learned to draw and had so many formative experiences.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on May 28, 2012 at 12:47 | Comments (0)


Comments

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?


s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee