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Rothko In Britain Exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery

An exhibition of an exhibition - is the Whitechapel Gallery clutching at straws here?

Written by . Published on September 27th 2011.

Rothko In Britain Exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery

EVER heard of an exhibition of an exhibition? Well, for the next few months the Whitechapel Gallery in East London is doing exactly this. Revisiting the groundbreaking Rothko exhibition of 1961, the Whitechapel highlights Rothko’s connection to Britain, with the images of the abstract expressionist’s previous exhibition 50 years ago.

Initially disappointing and stretching the definition of ‘exhibition’, with only one work of art, located in such a small room, there was a distinct lack of more original Rothko paintings.

The display presents the gallery’s own archives of the original photographs and letters, never seen before by the public; these feature both the artist and gallery, as well as Rothko’s works of art bought by a British public collection. One of the rarer letters on show describes Rothko’s feelings for England, exclaiming, ”I feel so in tune with people like Shakespeare and Dickens, I often think that they must really have been Russian Jews who immigrated to New York.”

Initially disappointing and stretching the definition of ‘exhibition’, with only one work of art, located in such a small room, there was a distinct lack of more original Rothko paintings. However, with Sandra Lousada’s archival pigment prints of the exhibition and the viewers back in the ’60s, letters to and from the artist and the looming original painting ‘Light Red Over Black’ (1957), it is a fairly insightful retrospective. Mark Rothko’s large painting, scaling the size of one of the confined room’s walls is extremely impressive. With its rich, dark colours, including deep blues and blacks contrasting with the rich reds, it is a bold and handsome piece. The muted use of rectangles is nowadays a technique associated with Rothko and his post-modern rejection of specific reference when painting images with common associations. 

Whitechapel’s exhibition ‘Rothko in Britain’, invites the viewer to interact and listen to recorded memoirs of the original display in 1961 and of Rothko, from other artists. Six people, including artist John Hoyland express their feelings on the artist’s work and his post-war connection with Britain. Although a fairly meagre display of Rothko, with more unseen archives than unseen artwork, the Rothko of Britain exhibition is an interesting one, which gives the viewer a glimpse of the man as an Avant Garde artist, who was extremely popular, particularly after the war. The Whitechapel gallery celebrates the anniversary of the ground-breaking exhibition 50 years ago and provides us with unseen information on how Mark Rothko connected with Britain and how he produced his signature style.


Rothko in Britain runs from 9 September – 26 February 2012

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