What is it with these Paintings? Or murals, or ‘multiforms’ or whatever the hell they are. I’ve been visiting them since I was a kid. They always make me feel better, about everything really. I have no idea why.
To my eye they’re big blocks of dark colours (black and red seem popular) on dark backgrounds. And that is it! And there’s nine of them in their current room, at Tate Britain. They used to be in a room in the Tate Modern, but they moved them last year apparently, so that was two galleries in one day for me when I went back to see them last Saturday. Thanks for letting me know guys. I seem to remember when they were housed at the ‘Modern’ there used to be a Monet on the facing wall to their room. This sort of worked for me. The slow colours of the paintings seemed to compliment each other. Is there such a phrase as ‘slow colours?’ Not much happening’ I guess. See a Roy Lichtenstein painting for the opposite of what I’m on about.
Anyhoo, in their new setting they’ve got their own room again (a must) which is located on the way to the gallery’s Turner collection. There are a lot of Turner paintings spread over a few halls, and of course they’re all magnificent. Just not really my cup of tea. If you hadn’t gathered already, I’m no connoisseur. I can obviously appreciate the skill and vision, but I grew up in the age of the camera, so I really want to see things you can’t take a photo of. Even the old religious stuff leaves me cold. I’m a moron aren’t I.
So I can’t help thinking that the Tate have put these Rothko’s in a room leading to the Turner’s with a ‘OK, you’ve been in your wierdo bit, now here’s proper painting’ kind of statement. Personally, when I was there I couldn’t have given a toss. I had a look around at all the legendary artworks and then…aah, I’m back in the Rothko room again. Great!
Bit of background. Not much, you can read all about Rothko elsewhere, but these are called the Seagram murals because Mark Rothko agreed to provide paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in the, then, recently completed Seagram building skyscraper on Park Avenue. This was in the late 50’s. So, having finished the paintings, he goes cruising round Europe with his wife, and when he gets back to New York he decides to give his cash advance back to Seagram and Sons company, and keep the paintings in storage. His reasons for his actions apparently being that the lavish setting of the restaurant went against his deep set socialist principles. The kind of people dining there it would seem were not his kind of people. This makes me think that at heart, Rothko was a bit of a berk. Why did he take the commission in the first place? Who did he think would be dining in a plush restaurant set in a recently built skyscraper on Park Avenue, New York?
Tortured artists. Don’t you love ’em. Fortunately the paintings were taken out of storage in 1968, and are now spread across galleries in Japan, Washington D.C and our Tate.
And I still haven’t explained why I love being in the big room in the gallery surrounded by these paintings. The reason is, I honestly don’t know. As I said before, just being in that room makes me feel better. There was a scene in the excellent series ‘Madmen’ where the eccentric and slightly odd head of the firm, Bertram Cooper, decides to hang a Rothko Painting (not dissimilar to the ones I’m on about) in his office. And Don Draper and all the gang troop in to see this painting, and they all stand there with bemused looks on their faces. As they would. It’s a weird old man with his weird painting. What is going on?
I would have been in my teens when I first saw them, and I’m sure I would have had the same expression on my face as the cast in the TV series. But they stayed with me, and I keep going back. Maybe it’s the New York history, and I imagine sitting in the glamour of the restaurant that they never actually hung in. Maybe it’s the big dark reds and big black blocks have some kind of calming effect. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen anything else quite like them.
Again, as I said before, I don’t know the reason.
I just keep going back.
6 thoughts on “Mark Rothko – The Seagram Murals”
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