My first experience of Rothko’s room at the Tate Modern drove me to tears, it was a full experience that forcibly jump started my creative brain again, although with little direction or understanding of the path. The experience wasn’t something I couldn’t fully put into words and so I will continue this post focusing on the display method that must have influenced my response to the works:
Mark Rothko: A Biography by James E. B. Breslin
p411 – 2
“For the installation of the Whitechapel exhibit, Rothko transmitted a set of detailed instructions, which show that his desire to control the conditions of viewing was considered effort to preserve the subtle and delicate identities of his paintings.
Walls should be painted “considerably off-white with umber and warmed by a little red,” Rotko instructed. “If walls are too white, they are always fighting against the pictures which turn greenish because of the predominance of red in the pictures.” About hanging, Rothko advised, “the larger pictures should all be hung as close to the floor as possible,”…”
This long list of requirements displays his careful consideration of how his pieces would produce the desired experience, allowing his work to still fit into this standard even after his death. However, I believe that his lighting requests are his true genius, while some artists control lighting in order to hide sins, Rothko’s skill as a painter means that the paintings are able to stand for themselves with only the softest lighting aid;
“[Rothko] asked me to switch all the lights off [late afternoon, when daylight had practically gone], everywhere; and suddenly, Rothko’s colours made its own light: the effect, once the retina had adjusted itself, was unforgettable, smoldering and blazing and glowing softly from the walls – colour in darkness… the world Rothko had made, in those perfect conditions, radiating its own energy and uncorrupted by artifice or the market place.”