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Russia-born and America-raised Mark Rothko (1903–1970) led a troubled, melancholy life that ended in suicide at the age of 67. Although Rothko resisted putting labels on his work, his evocative, large-scale color-field paintings are often held up as beautiful examples of abstract expressionism, a non-representational art form that emerged out of New York in the 1940s. Red takes place during the years Rothko worked on his famous Seagram Murals, a series commissioned by the Seagram beverage company for what was then a record-breaking payment of $35,000.
From blogs to museum exhibits and even a bit of Mad Men, our literary department has curated quite a collection of views of Rothko and his work.
A Room With a View of the Subconscious
- This essay by Jonathan Jones, art critic for the Guardian, provides insight into the Tate’s “Red Room,” the aptly named space for the museum’s collection of Seagram Murals.
The History and Manufacture of Lithol Red
- This scientific paper from the Tate Online Research Journal analyzes lithol red, Rothko’s color of choice for the Seagram and Harvard murals.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Assistant
- The character of Ken comes from a long tradition of artists’ assistants. This article from culture journal The Brooklyn Rail takes a look at these oft-overlooked contributors and the daily grind of making a masterpiece.
- Ken is rumored to be based on Dan Rice, an Abstract Expressionist who helped out in Rothko’s studio in the 1950s. Rice died in 2003; his obituary from the Hartford Courant provides some insight into his life and work.
National Gallery of Art
Kawamura Memorial Museum
- The Seagram Murals are on display in different museums throughout the world: the Tate Modern in London; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; and the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Japan. Each museum has information about its exhibit on its website, and the Tate and NGA have extensive biographical and contextual resources.
- The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the first West Coast venue exclusively devoted to curating contemporary works, features several works by Rothko in its permanent collection. The SFMOMA has an extensive display of Modernist paintings, photographs, sculptures and design objects, as well as the latest in artistic innovation.
A Look at John Logan’s Play Red
- In April 2010, Charlie Rose sat down with Red’s writer, John Logan, and the premiere production’s director and cast, to talk about the play’s creation and development.
The Painting Techniques of Mark Rothko: No. 16 (Red, Brown, and Black)
- This video from New York’s Museum of Modern Art explains and demonstrates the techniques that Rothko may have used for painting No. 16 (Red, Brown, and Black).
Simon Schama’s Power of Art
- Columbia University Professor Simon Shama offers both personal and historical perspectives on Rothko, with a particular focus on the story behind the Seagram Murals, in the BBC documentary series, The Power of Art. You can watch the hour-long episode on YouTube.
Mad Men’s Rothko Moments
- In this classic scene from season two of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper employees sneak into Bert’s office to gawk at his latest big purchase—an original Rothko. The range of their reactions—from indifference to absolute befuddlement—exemplify some of the most typical responses to Rothko’s work.
Mark Rothko: A Biography by James E.B. Breslin
- Breslin’s book, the first full-length biography about the artist and still the most authoritative, has been hailed by critics for its clear and sympathetic articulation of Rothko’s creative genius and personal demons.
Mark Rothko by Jeffrey Weiss
- This beautiful retrospective contains vivid reprints of 100 Rothko works that span the breadth of his career, from his early figure drawings to the color-field paintings that made him famous. The edition also features interviews with other modernist painters—Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman and George Segal—that illustrate the painter’s continuing influence in the art world.
The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art by Mark Rothko
- Although Rothko probably wrote most of its content in the 1930s and 1940s, the manuscript for this book sat in a warehouse, unpublished and unread, for more than 30 years after the artist’s death. The book finally saw the light of day in 2006, and provides considerable insight into the mind of the deeply contemplative artist.
Abstract Expressionism by Barbara Hess
- This entry in the Taschen collection takes a sweeping look at the genre—described here as a “[celebration of] painting itself as a communicative action”—and the painters who defined the movement. Along with photographs, timelines and biographies of the artists’ lives, the book contains full-page reprints and scholarly interpretations of some of their most important works.
Rothko’s Rooms (DVD)
- A documentary featuring interviews with family members, fellow artists and scholars.
Painters Painting (DVD)
- Rothko never let himself be filmed while painting, but many of his contemporaries did. This DVD features footage of artists from the New York scene, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol, at work in their studios.
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