New American Paintings/Blog

Playing Rothko: The Seagram Murals on Arena Stage by New American Paintings

Edward Gero as Mark Rothko and Patrick Andrews as Ken in the 2011 Goodman Theatre production of Red. Directed by Robert Falls. Photo by Liz Lauren.

If abstract painting is an inward journey seeking truth in the human condition, then perhaps Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals are heralds for what we’ll find. Commissioned in 1958 for the dinning room of the Four Seasons in Manhattan’s Seagram building, the murals were a bit of a formal departure for the artist, who had already settled into his classic style of soft rectangular shapes floating on vertical canvases. The paintings also marked the beginning of Rothko’s journey into darkness, as he left behind a brighter palette for progressively darkened hues and a somber affect that would yield his late-career black paintings. Increasingly apprehensive of the posh Four Seasons restaurant as an appropriate setting for the meditative pictorial environment he sought, Rothko withdrew from the Seagram project in 1959, though he would later complete multiple such environments — at the Philips Collection in D.C., in Harvard University, and with the Rothko Chapel in Houston.

This landmark moment — Rothko’s struggles in the studio and his germinating ambition for a pure physical environment for his paintings — is the subject of Red, a screenplay by John Logan, produced by D.C.’s Arena Stage in conjunction with Chicago’s Goodman Theater (at Arena Stage through March 11, 2012). Concurrently with Red the National Gallery of Art is exhibiting the three Seagram paintings from its permanent collection, through August 15.

More after the jump. — Matthew Smith, Washington, D.C. contributor

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Collecting Critically: A Q&A with Henry L. Thaggert by New American Paintings

Andy Warhol’s relationship to abstraction is charged. Despite a latecareer painterlyimpulse — which included the Shadows series currently exhibiting at the Hirshhorn — his pictorial language based on representation fundamentally questioned the narrative of post-war painting as defined by Clement Greenberg. And the implications of Pop Art’s emergence over Abstract Expressionism were significant, not least for black artists as changes in collecting preferences opened new doors for art about the African American experience. This was the premise of a talk by art collector Henry Thaggert at the Philips Collection in Washington D.C. a few years back. It’s a perspective that Kara Walker seems to echo, at least indirectly, in a talk on Andy Warhol scheduled for next week at the Hirshhorn. I recently caught up with Thaggert to talk further about Warhol, get his thoughts on collecting art, and about his involvement in the local art scene. – Matthew Smith, D.C. Contributor

Andy Warhol | Shadows, 1978-79. Dia Art Foundation. © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Photo: Cathy Carver.

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