Mark Rothko: Perceptions of Being
September 28, 2011 — January 22, 2012
The Chrysler Museum of Art presented Mark Rothko: Perceptions of Being, from Sept. 28, 2011 to Jan. 8, 2012.
The exhibition enveloped the Chrysler’s own No. 5 (Untitled)with five paintings on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.—each a gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation. The resulting exhibition showed the evolution of the modernist’s work throughout his career.
Rothko’s first paintings of expressionistic cityscapes, landscapes, portraits, and still life eventually led in the 1940s to an exploration of myth and the unconscious using the precepts of Surrealism, as well as the study of ancient civilizations, philosophy, and analytical psychology.
The development of his renowned veils of color from 1949 onward related in part to Surrealism’s project of unveiling half-formed images in the subconscious. Rothko described his mature works as “tragic dramas” that continue his earlier work in a more abstract format.
The viewer’s perception and emotional relationship with his work were a primary concern for Rothko. The Chrysler’s exhibition replicated the viewing conditions that Rothko considered essential to experiencing his work. He painted large canvases not to emphasize their grandiose quality, but to envelope the viewer in a “very intimate and human” visual atmosphere, in the artist’s words.
In the early 1950s, he began to dictate that his abstract works be hung low and close together, so that viewers were engulfed by the forms and their chromatic intensity. As Rothko’s forms hover indeterminately between being and non-being, they make us acutely aware of our own existence.
From the artist
“I am not an abstractionist. … I am not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. … I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on — and the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures show that I communicate those basic human emotions. … The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.”
Mark Rothko, quoted in Conversations with Artists (1957) by Selden Rodman.