Mark Rothko: More ‘Abstract’ Than ‘Expressionist’

THE DAILY PIC: At Pace, Rothko's pictures are dark, sure—but so are Christmas pudding and port and other cheery pleasures.

Mark Rothko Untitled {Rust, Blacks on Plum}, 1962 oil on canvas 60" x 57" (152.4 cm x 144.8 cm) No. 07446 Format of original photography: Transparency Photographer: Hickey Robertson

THE DAILY PIC (#1694): Is there any artist who suffers more from his own clichés than poor old Mark Rothko? All that “expression” his abstraction is supposed to be paired with, all that angst, all that transcendence. The head of a poster company once told me that Rothko had become the artist of choice for the dorm-room walls of collegians, perfect for all those moments when your parents don’t understand you and your new lover has left you for your best friend.

Luckily, a show called “Mark Rothko: Dark Palette,” at Pace gallery in New York, left me with quite a different image of the artist. Despite the dusky profundities promised in its title, the exhibition presented Rothko as a consummate professional of the Color Field variety. Certain peculiar and surprising juxtapositions of paint, as in this untitled canvas from 1962, make Rothko seem more interested in exploring chroma, saturation, and value than trauma, abjection and taboo. The exhibition corrects an imbalance in the public perception of Rothko, making clear that the purely abstract could matter as much to him as any expressionism it permitted. Once he got his hands on a palette, however dark, he could end up more playful than angstful. Josef Albers, the Chromaster, is back in the limelight this season, and the Pace show lets us see Rothko through Albersian eyes. (Private Collection, Santa Monica; ©1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo courtesy The Mark Rothko Foundation)

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