Thursday, December 04, 2008

The push and pull of London, paint and steel

Rothko big room at the Tate, originally uploaded by libbyrosof.

Back from Thanksgiving in London. I can’t really give you too much of an idea of any of it because it was all so wonderful, and therefore incommunicable in so many ways, but I will say that I had the most wonderful Thanksgiving day with Jonathan, Willie, Ruairidh et al, and that I had a lovely chorizo and rocket sandwich at Borough Market, and that aside from those precious experiences on winter days and nights, there were two others which just overlay themselves on my mind and don’t go away.

Last Saturday morning, I visited Rothko at Tate Modern. The exhibition presents a selection of Mark Rothko’s later works, including some seemingly plain and very luminously dark canvases — and the so-called Seagram Murals, some of which were intended for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York City. They are what we have come to see as quintessential Rothko: massive, insistent, throbbing presences. They were never hung in the restaurant after all; he withdrew from the commission but took the same care over them as over the rest of his work. And anyway, it would be impossible to eat near them.

I was somewhat sceptical of their ability to make me emote. I’d seen some of them before, many times, in the Tate collection, but this was the first time they were nearly all together, united from many different countries, in one perfectly-lit room. I got all choked up with real emotion after a couple of wanders around the other rooms and back to the one above.

The exhibition had the effect on me of at first intensely interesting me and almost pushing me away at the same instant, and then utterly compelling me to let myself get pulled in. It was the same with the Richard Serra sculptures at the Gagosian gallery in King’s Cross later that day. He uses huge, heavy sheets of thick corten steel, sometimes curved and twisted into funnel-shaped forms, sometimes almost sandwiched to create claustrophobia, sometimes left weighty and brutal and straight. They really are almost monstrously large, far far bigger than human scale, but as with the proverbial tree falling in the forest, they are transparent spaces, blank cinema-screens for your soul, and have no power beyond your engagement with them. If you aren’t there, they really don’t make a sound.

So if you get a chance before either of these things leave the UK, please go see. That’s all for now, folks.

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