The Rothko Chapel, Chelsea

“I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry.” Mark Rothko.

I could sit there for a month. One of the infamous "Seagrams Murals," 1959. Rarely seen.

“Seagrams Murals, Section 6,” 1959. One of the infamous murals for the 4 Seasons Restaurant, but never installed there.

Lines to get in are nothing new in New York, or in Chelsea, home to some of the most “happening” nightclubs in the City. But a line to get in at 2 or 3pm in the afternoon is rare anywhere in NYC. Even rarer are lines to get into an Art Gallery at that hour- unless it’s late in the run of a “must-see” show. But, the line filled the lobby and extended out the door at the extraordinary “Mark Rothko: Dark Palette” show which only opened the day before at Pace on West 25th Street. Five years in the making, and focused on exploring one aspect of his work, don’t bother asking for the price list, it’s also unusual for a gallery show because none of the work is for sale. Darn! What will I do now with that spare 90 million dollars?? Maybe I’ll open some grocery supermarkets with reasonable prices most neighborhoods in Manhattan desperately need.

3pm November 5. The crowd in the lobby waits.

3pm November 5. The crowd waiting to get in fills the lobby. Buckle up! It’s only going to get more crowded.

When it comes to writing about the work of Mark Rothko, I have to say up front that it’s very hard for me to be unbiased. Mark Rothko’s Art changed my life. In 1999 I saw his Retrospective at the Old Whitney (now TMB) the final weekend it was there. It was one of the unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had at an Art show, and it was perfect timing, given the roadblock I had hit with record companies in trying to get my records released unaltered, I then decided to turn (back) to Art History, my first love. Thank you, Mark Rothko.

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Let’s get lost. This is how I prefer to see Rothko. Each work can be seen on it’s own. Getting close to feel engulfed by the work is good, too.

There have been Rothko shows in NYC since 1. But, none of them have yet matched the feeling I got from the 1999 show- aided in no small part by the way the works were hung, the way the show moved through his career. I’ve longed for that feeling ever since. At long last, here it is. The “dark” works have a unique mystery among Rothko’s work, and are a terrific choice for a theme. While some see them as “depressing,” (including a lady mentioned in the show’s introduction card who rejected one that Rothko had painted for her for that reason), I find them to be among his most powerful, subtle, even, yes, poignant pieces. While it’s always great to encounter a Rothko in a Museum, they’re usually hung among the work of others, which I find a bit distracting, For me, Rothko needs to be seen and experienced in a “vacuum,” or with only Rothkos nearby. Few institutions have that many Rothkos, and given their popularity, it is very hard for them to part with them and disappoint their visitors, even for a couple of months.

Worshipping at the altar?

Worshipping at the altar?

Luckily, two of the very few people who do have some, the offspring of Mr. Rothko, Dr. Kate Rothko Prizel and Dr. Christopher Rothko, have gone above and beyond to support this show. A number of the works on view come from their collections- by my count, no less than 4 from Kate’s and 2 from Christopher’s, in addition to “Seagrams Mural, Section 6” which they jointly own. That’s 7 of the 21 works on view- one third. (Christopher Rothko, by the way, is the author of one of the very best books on his father there is- “Mark Rothko: From the Inside Out.“). To help facilitate the loans of 3 pieces from major Museums, the Rothko “kids” loaned the institutions works from their own collections so the institutions would still have Rothkos to show their visitors, and enable them to part with the works requested for this show. Remarkable. Dad would no doubt be proud. With 21 “dark” works, the majority of which are out and out masterpieces in my estimation, including some stunning works on paper mounted on canvas, the results are as close as there has been to a truly “must see” show in Chelsea in years.

Someone else...

Someone else…

That said, it was only a year and a half ago that another show in this same space left me transfixed and provided many hours spent in sheer meditative bliss- by Richard Pousette-Dart. This one is very similar in it’s effect, as we explore the history of Rothko’s use of dark colors in his “sectional” works. I can’t categorize what these works say to me because it’s different each time I see them. Sometimes it’s spiritual. Sometimes poetic. Sometimes I feel like I’m standing on a foreign landscape looking at distant horizons. But, it’s that experience they give, the pure joy of looking, seeing and letting them in that transfixes me.

"Black in Deep Red," 1957. The day will come where these works will be as famous as Monet's are now, in my opinion.

“Black in Deep Red,” 1957. The day will come when Rothko’s work will be as ubiquitous as Monet’s are now, in my opinion.

This has been a year full of big New York School Abstract Expressionist Shows. First, there was the biggest “name” in AbEx, Jackson Pollock, at MoMA, then concurrent shows of his wife, Lee Krasner, and long time friend, Philip Guston. A very nice smaller show of New York School Artists is going on at Allan Stone Projects that includes two marvelous Joseph Cornell Boxes (Ok, he’s not an AbEx Artist, but his work is wonderfully abstract, and he was a New Yorker), alongside works by Abstract Expressionists2 de Koonjng, Arshile Gorky and Clifford Still. There’s also a nice Joan Mitchell show that’s about the same size as the Rothko show going on very nearby it, AND there’s the Centennial show of Richard Pousette-Dart, for my money the most under appreciated of the lot, going on right now at Pace uptown!

"Untitled," 1955 the earliest work here has never been displayed in the country before.

“Untitled,” 1955, the earliest work here, has never been displayed in the country before.

Phew…

I didn't bring flowers, so this will suffice as my "bouquet."

I didn’t bring flowers, so this Post will have to suffice as my “bouquet.”

For me, though, this show will be the high point. Short of going to the “real” Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas or the Seagrams Room at the Tate, London, this is the only, and best, chance you’ll get to get that feeling…until the next big Rothko show. Unlike most of my Art Show Posts, this show only opened this past Friday, November 4, so you have until January 7, 2017 to experience it.

"Untitled," 1968, one of a few acrylic on paper, mounted on panel pieces here, seen from an angle.

“Untitled,” 1968, one of a few wonderful acrylic on paper, mounted on panel pieces here, has fascinating sides.

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After that? You’re stuck being like me- Praying for the next one.

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*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Rothko Chapel” by Morton Feldman.

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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. “Mark Rothko: The Watercolors” in 2014, shining light on his seldom seen work in the medium, and “Mark Rothko: A Painter’s Progress, The Year 1949” in 2004, focused and fascinating, both excellent, and both at Pace, East 57th Street.
  2. according to a list The Met has published