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“I could do that.”
We’ve all said this (or thought it, if we’re too diplomatic to say it) while looking at a piece of abstract art.
Perhaps it was a singular circle in a bright hue on a plain white background or a splashy, drippy, work by the likes of Jackson Pollock that made you scoff. Or perhaps it was the signature lines and boxes of famous Russian-born artist Mark Rothko.
If you are a fan of Rothko’s work, you are in luck—an exhibit is set to open at the Academy Art Museum here in Easton on February 4th, including several pieces never exhibited publicly before now. If you’ve never seen Rothko’s work in person (or don’t know who he is), check out his paintings—they may surprise you. And if you’ve dismissed Rothko’s art in the past as something you (or even your gifted child) could do, take another look. Step back for a moment and open your eyes without cynicism.
Some say you need to take in a Rothko painting for at least half an hour to “get it.” I’m not sure any of us have that kind of attention span anymore thanks to our tech-heavy, multi-tasking lifestyles. But maybe that’s exactly why you should give it a try.
At first glance, a Rothko will show you its colors—some vibrant and warm, like peering into a square furnace of yellow flames; others cool and tranquil like the horizontal bands of sky over sea. A deeper look will reveal undulations and undertones you never knew were there—what first appears black becomes blue in places and dark brown in others; behind a wide swath of twilight blue peeks shades of indigo bleeding from behind.
Whatever you may see, resist the urge to wonder, “What is it?” This is another common reaction to art that is not representational. If it is not a person, an animal, a landscape, or a bowl of fruit, what is it? What am I supposed to see? What is the artist trying to tell me?
If you were to ask Rothko, he would want the art to speak for itself. “Silence is so accurate,” he is quoted frequently as saying, explaining his reluctance to either title or explain the meaning of his paintings.
When it comes to Rothko’s work, the key is not what you are supposed to see: it is what you feel. Human emotions are communicated through the use of certain hues and brush strokes, and Rothko seeks to convey nothing less than “tragedy, ecstasy, [and] doom.”
It is this emotional nature of Rothko’s work that has touched so many other artists and creators around the world. Inspiring everything from choral compositions to a chapel to a Tony-award-winning play, clearly Rothko’s messages have resonated with many. Stop into the Academy Art Museum and find out if they speak to you.
Mark Rothko: Selections from the National Gallery of Art will be on display at the Academy Art Museum from February 4th through April 22, 2012. A Members' Reception will be held on Friday, February 3, 2012, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. A Gallery Talk on the Rothko exhibition by Anke Van Wagenberg, Curator, will be held on Friday, February 3, 2012, at 6 p.m. Details on additional curator-led tours and lectures are available at 410-822-ARTS (2787) or visit: www.academyartmuseum.org.
The play about Mark Rothko—Red—is at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage through March 4th.