Things have been dark. For people who want something bright and uplifting, I would recommend a visit the the newly reopened Meeting at PS1, a skyspace by James Turrell. I prefer something sombre; Dark Palette, a show that highlights Mark Rothko’s darkest canvases. (Editor’s note: I am an employee of Pace Prints, which is associated with Pace Gallery). This show is a wonder. The paintings are often like shadows or apparitions, not unlike the experience of awakening in partial darkness. The edges bleed and blur and their gray reflections are weighty on the polished concrete floor.
Black pigment with a hint of binding medium became Ad Reinhardt’s late signature. Rothko rivals Reinhardt’s pigment in Dark Palette. Here we are reminded people of Rothko’s affinity for paintings that used color to toy with perception. Black and red and brown and gray merge in uneven borders that are there only in so far as your eye can settle on them before they start to shift. The greatest thing you can do is simply sit and look.
It would be wrong of me to say that all the work here is masterful. There are pieces that don’t live up to the Seagram’s Murals status as a masterpiece. But several smaller pieces quietly show Rothko’s ability to think small and create the same response.
Here at Atlas, I wrote about the effect that Rothko’s Seagrams Murals had on me nearly 20 years ago, installed in their oak, gray and natural light chapel at the Tate (now Tate Britain). I visited them again a few years later, the same month that National Gallery opened his Retrospective. These shows left an indelible mark. Rothko has been lionized in plays and books, my favorite of which is the Breslin bio Mark Rothko, which I was reading as I was seeing these exhibitions.
Rothko still leaves me in awe, happy for my time in the dark.
A short list of gallery shows worth seeing soon: