Thursday, October 08, 2009

Simple Setting or Complex?

Mark Rothko's Seagram Mural Collection

Kaki Hockersmith, an interior designer who did all the work on the White House when the Clinton’s lived there, once told me in an interview she believes art should always hold its own in a setting, and you shouldn’t worry about designing around a painting. I thought that was a pretty cool system of thought coming from an interior designer who might obviously be focused more on the surroundings of a work of art than the art itself.

That’s why when I came across some information about Mark Rothko’s famous Seagram Murals returning to Tate Liverpool, more than two decades after they formed part of its opening display, I ruminated on the contrast of this thought.

It seems Rothko, an abstract expressionist known for his boldly simply images, was rather obsessed with the setting of his works and their presentation.

Created in the late 1950s, the series of nine murals were originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant, within New York’s Seagram Building. Apparently the artist was under the impression the work was to be placed in a quiet contemplative place, but when he found out it was for the restaurant he refused to deliver the paintings, refunded the commission money and was quoted as saying I’ll not have these paintings hang were the "richest bastards in New York come to feed and show off."

The works appeared in the Tate Liverpool's, opening exhibition in 1988, so their recent return to the museum is quite historic.

On both visits, the gallery staff has attempted to recreate Rothko’s specified presentation, including grey walls and low-level lighting to bring out the colors. The Seagram Murals will be on display at Tate Liverpool until March 21, 2010.

What do you think? Should art be displayed in a sterile environment, or should it be part of a luscious interior landscape? I'm of the opinion Rothko's work looks great anywhere.

(c) 2009 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved

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