Thursday, November 19, 2015


This is a picture of Mark Rothko’s “Light Red Over Black” from 1957.
A red canvas and a light red rectangular smear hovering above a squarish black smudge floating over a more shadowy black brick.
This is one of my favorite things.
What can not be visually or abstractly or virtually understood - what thus far defies the digital reinterpretation of our physical reality - is the experience of being in the presence of a Rothko.
His canvases are huge.
18 feet tall, I think. 11 feet wide.
Each one painted on canvas made from the bleached hide of the last living specimen of an all but extinct species. A singular animal hunted across nocturne steppes in the dead of winter, stalked, killed, skinned just to this end. The blood still pumping warm through the heart, collected for pigments.
In every museum in front of every Rothko there is a bench because to be in the looming presence of a Rothko is to be cowered and the bench allows one the option to sit rather than kneel.
At the Tate Modern in London there is an entire room of them.
Ordinarily this is not permitted. Just as suspects are separated by police before questioning; just as the most irrepressible of prisoners are kept in a solitary confinement; just as the most powerful versions of gods are segregated into separate monotheisms; just as competing densities of gravity are stored on entirely separate planets; so too are Rothkos usually kept far apart.
It is for this reason that he never delivered on his 1958 contract to produce an entire series of his dark totems to the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in Midtown Manhattan.  
He painted them, but then distributed them far and wide, to the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Sakura Japan, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the nation-state of LA, to the underground Houston Texas bunker of the Rothko Chapel, and to the Tate Modern in London.
The thing which is most important for a witch doctor to know, is how much black magic is too much.
But the Tate Modern, in its enthusiasm to collect as many of the monoliths as possible, installed an active noise control system in its Rothko Room, using anti-noise wavelengths licensed from the city of Taos New Mexico to cancel the ultra low-frequency hum emitted by the paintings, which had been correlatively linked to mass hysteria and also - conversely - to a debilitatingly deep, unremitting existential solemnity.
The room is quite large, or perhaps not. In a Danielewskian happenstance, no two people have ever measured the dimensions of the room similarly. Most agree that the room is vaguely rectangular in shape. That it has a slatted wood floor of burnished yellow pine cut from trees so young that the cutting itself was considered very nearly obscene. Most agree that the room is dim, held in perpetual shadow, an unending dusk, but for the slim dry glow around the paintings themselves, which are not artificially illuminated.
Most agree that despite the fact the ceilings appear rather low, they must actually be quite high, as all Rothkos are 27 feet tall, 13 feet across, and 2 feet thick.
The room is what a Bronte would describe as glum.
Given the sound canceling capabilities of the room, it is completely silent. Should two patrons find themselves in the room at the same time - which has never happened - they would hear nothing, least of all the accelerated beating of their own hearts, as the vibrations up through their bones would instantly be countermanded by the negative silence of the motion activated sound transceivers embedded in the ceilings, the floors, the walls.
This is the room I will go to when I die.
I have no spiritual reason to believe this, but I believe that when we die we go - alone - to a quiet and lonely and empty and eerily beautiful place.
For someone else I imagine this may be a golden midwest field of grain bending preternaturally in the not-quite-silent but unhearable breeze. For someone, I imagine, this might be an oak panelled room decorated with the stuffed heads of dead animal's; antlers and those obsidian black plastic eyes taxidermists use because light glints off of them in just the right ways. For someone, I imagine, it will be the observation deck of the Empire State Building looking down into a completely motionless Manhattan. This is what all of those shots of sun-dappled blades of grass are about in The Thin Red Line.

This is the room I will go to when I die.


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