Object of the Week: Untitled

Mark Rothko is one of the preeminent American artists of the 20th century and a central figure of the New York School. This later painting, completed in 1963, is a wonderful example of his signature style—a large-scale canvas comprised of bands of color that vibrate with quiet depth and intensity.

As described by one art historian, Stephen Polcari, “Rothko’s mature paintings consist of parallel rectangles, often similar in value but different in hue and width, extended to the edges of the canvas. The shapes lack distinctive textural effect, seeming to be veils of thin color applied with sponges, rags, and cloths, as well as brushes. Line has been eliminated altogether.”1 In Untitled, a muted palette of dark, purplish browns—verging on black—are characteristic of his later work, while his earlier color field abstractions are defined by their bright and exuberant surfaces of glowing red, yellows, and oranges. (#10, also in SAM’s collection, is a strong example.)

While Polcari’s formal assessment is accurate, what cannot be captured is, importantly, the feeling of a Rothko painting. In a 1958 lecture given by the artist at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, he addressed the size of his work and the importance of scale: “large pictures are like dramas in which one participates in a direct way.”2 Rather than depict the human form, which had previously preoccupied many artists of his generation, Rothko opted instead to pursue something much larger—more ineffable and metaphysical: “the scale of human feelings, the human drama, as much of it as I can express.”3 Scale, coupled with the structure of the paintings, anchored by his signature layering of saturated colors, work to directly and immediately envelop the viewer, expressing “basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.”4 Rothko desired intimacy between his canvases and viewers, and attempted to connect his viewers with feelings of the sublime: “people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.”5

A recent gift to the Seattle Art Museum from the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, Rothko’s Untitled will be on view next month as part of Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

1 Conway Hall, “Rothko and Sensitive Observers,” Medium, May 22, 2016, https://medium.com/@ConwayHall/rothko-and-sensitive-observers-bc931faea110.

2 “Mark Rothko: Classic Paintings (1949-1970),” National Gallery of Art, https://www.nga.gov/features/mark-rothko/mark-rothko-classic-paintings.html.

3 Hall, Medium.

4 Selden Rodman, Conversations with Artists (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1957), 93.

5 Ibid.

Image: Untitled, 1963, Mark Rothko, oil on canvas, 69 × 90 1/4 in., Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, 2020.14.16. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society.

Muse/News: Fall Into Frisson, Black Papers Unite, and Guston For Real

SAM News

Crosscut presents its fall arts preview, with an asterisk in case of COVID-related changes. Among their picks to pencil in: Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection at the Seattle Art Museum, which debuts the recent gifts of pivotal Abstract Expressionist works of art (Krasner! Guston! Rothko! And more!).

Local News

The Seattle Times’ David Gutman reports on the $20 million in federal COVID-19 recovery funds that King County will distribute to theaters, music venues, clubs, and other artistic spaces.

Seattle Met’s fall fashion spread celebrates the return of performers to the stage with theatrical looks (all the world’s, etc.).

The Seattle Medium is one of 10 Black newspapers in the US that have come together in a “new online collaborative” called Word In Black, reports Ernie Suggs of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The 10 different publishers ‘sometimes have different mindsets, different politics, and they live in different parts of the country’…said [Nick] Charles. ‘But their affection and love for communities are what binds them. Collaboration is going on because people realize that to survive and to meet our mission as journalists, we have to band together.’”

Inter/National News

Shanti Escalante-de Mattei for ARTnews on the new artist residency on Long Island for Black, Indigenous, and POC creators, created by Jeremy Dennis in his family home.

On Artnet’s Art Angle Podcast: Four artists (Naomi Ben-Shahar, Monika Bravo, Simon Eldridge, and Jeff Koenigsberg) who were participating in the World Views Residency during 9/11 reflect on their experiences.

The New York Times’ Roberta Smith on Philip Guston: 1969-1979 at Hauser & Wirth.

“These paintings have their amusing aspects as images; their enthralling, startling qualities as fields of manipulated paint; and their painful auras as ridiculous yet heart-rending pictures of the hell that is being an artist, or maybe just the hell that was being Philip Guston.”

And Finally

An update on Cotton Candy Girl.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: To B.W.T., 1952, Philip Guston, American (born in Canada), 1913–1980, oil on canvas, 48 1/2x 51 1/2 in.Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Friday Foundation in honor of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis, 2020.14.10 © The Estate of Philip Guston. Photo: Spike Mafford /Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of the Friday Foundation.

Muse/News: Amis on Monet, Candidates on Art, and Expansive Visions

SAM News

Monet at Étretat is recommended by notre amis at Ici Seattle, and Seattle Met includes it on their list of things to do in Seattle.

The Seattle Times’ Megan Burbank is back with their “A&E Pick of the Week”; she highlights current shows at Photographic Center Northwest and Sandstone Ceramics and also suggests you mark your calendars for Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection, opening October 15 at SAM.

“It’s thrilling to share with the public these formidable examples of Abstract Expressionism and postwar European art,” said Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s curator of contemporary art, in the news release. “The emotional current of these works, reflective of their specific time and context, runs from exuberant to contemplative, fierce to soaring.”

Local News

Seattle Medium is among outlets sharing the news that Sheila Edwards Lange has been selected as the new chancellor of the University of Washington Tacoma. The educator and leader also serves on several boards, including that of the Seattle Art Museum.

The Seattle Times’ Alan Berner captured the tricky installation of two sculptures downtown: Fernando Botero’s Adam and Catherine Mayer’s What Goes Up Must Come Down (a giant paddleball!).

The Stranger’s Jasmyne Keimig spoke with seven of Seattle’s mayoral candidates to ask them about their platforms for the arts (or lack thereof). To learn more, join this Thursday’s candidate forum on the arts!

“You’d have to be living under a rock not to understand how devastating the pandemic has been for Seattle’s art and cultural community…While Seattle’s Cultural Space Agency charter has emerged to stymie cultural displacement in the city, a lot of work is yet to be done to make sure that Seattle can be a hospitable place for artists to work and live. So what’s Seattle’s next mayor going to do about it?

Inter/National News

“The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has announced 40 grants totaling $3 million in support of efforts to preserve African-American landmarks,” reports Philanthropy News Digest.

“Pay your rent, Canada”: a comic by SAM collection artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.

The Magazine ANTIQUES continues its coverage of the missing panels from Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series; here, they check in with the exhibition curators of The American Struggle, which was recently on view at SAM, to reflect on the recently recovered and still-missing panels.

Immigrants is the title caption, but on the back Lawrence wrote, ‘The Emigrants,’ suggesting a desire for permanence in their new home. The middle figure clutches a potted rose—the national flower of the United States. Lawrence’s vision is that the arrival of all people, young and old, contributes to the expansion of America through their struggles and courage.”

And Finally

“Arts Philanthropists Need to Change the Way They Think About Disability”: An Artnet op-ed from Alice Sheppard and Lane Harwell.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Monet at Étretat at Seattle Art Museum, 2021, photo: Natali Wiseman.

SAMBlog