Tuesday, November 06, 2007

You say potato

Most people reading this post will have a shock of recognition when they see these two paintings. Many will have even more of a shock when they hear that both were painted by Mark Rothko in 1969, and not Colin McCahon. Looking at reproductions of works like these it is hard for most art educated New Zealanders not to read them as landscapes. Where an American would see an abstract painting we’ve been trained by works like Tomorrow will be the same… painted by McCahon in 1958 to see them as slate grey land with lowering dark skies. We remember having this discussion with an American curator. We were looking with him at Rothkos similar to these and pointed out the landscape possibilities they presented. Initially, he had no idea of what we were talking about. We had to do that thing you do with kids when they see their first elephant. Point out the tail, show where the legs are, and hope that it moves. Once that was done our curator friend grudgingly admitted the landscape possibility but, even then, we could see he kept losing it to the abstractness he had come to expect from Rothko.

Image: Left, Mark Rothko Untitled (Black and Gray), 1969. Right Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969. The two paintings are both for sale, one at Sotheby’s and the other at Christie’s.