Seeing Red … Again by Norbert Marszalek

Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko

I look forward to my Washington, D.C. trips. The endless museums and galleries never cease to amaze me with the National Gallery of Art being one of my favorites. The George Bellow paintings, Club Night, Forty-two Kids, Blue Morning, Both Members of This Club, The Lone Tenement, and New York are always there to greet me.

I was disappointed to learn this time around those particular paintings were not on view. My heart sank. The good news is there are always new places to discover and fortunately I found a doozy with The Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art: The National Musuems of Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution. They had more than a few intriguing exhibitions going on but the one I want to focus on is Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko.

Let me digress. A few years back I had the pleasure of seeing a play also titled Red about Rothko and a fictitious studio assistant during a two year period when the painter was commissioned to create several large paintings for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in NYC. The play was fantastic. During that same month I found myself in Houston experiencing the Rothko Chapel. It was magically transcending. I was really getting my Rothko groove on! You can read more about that here.

This new exhibition, Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko, adds a new layer for understanding Rothko. The setup is exquisite using two intimate adjoining rooms. The first room explains to the viewer what they are about to see using tasteful placards. The first paragraph clues the viewer in:

Mesmerizing shades of red cross time and place to unite an imperial Chinese porcelain dish and a painting by American artist Mark Rothko in an unexpected dialogue. Liberated from form, function, and historical narrative, these two objects bring forth the emotional power of art and color.

That’s right—the second room only has two objects: a red painting and a red porcelain dish. The painting is Rothko’s Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch) from 1959 that was part of his Four Seasons commission. The dish is Dish with copper-red glaze from the Ming dynasty, 1426-36.

Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko

What a brilliant idea to pair these two items together. Though created more than five centuries apart and for different motives, it’s eerie how alike they are. Both bewitch us with their layered red hues that change with every glance, tickling our visual perception. It’s beguiling how you can see the Rothko in the dish and the dish in the Rothko. This room … these two objects … deserve your quiet contemplation.

Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko

Red: Ming Dynasty/Mark Rothko

I’m looking forward to seeing those Bellow paintings next time but for now I have my Rothko groove back on.

More information on the exhibition here.