Shining Through

By the late 1950s, Rothko's evangelical drive had been crushed by proof that, like everybody else, he was terminally alone in his subjectivity. People kept grossly misunderstanding him even as they made him rich and famous. In a way, what occurred was a standard crisis of adolescence--the comeuppance, certainly, of many an overconfident kid poet or rock star--in a grown man who had fully mature powers of expression and a fairly total incapacity for compromise.

Real spirituality made really public: Rothko's Untitled (1952), Green, Red, Blue (1955), and Untitled (Purple, White and Red) (1953) (left to right)
Robin Holland
Real spirituality made really public: Rothko's Untitled (1952), Green, Red, Blue (1955), and Untitled (Purple, White and Red) (1953) (left to right)

Details

Mark Rothko
The Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
Through November 29

Rothko met the crisis badly. Though he could not remain a fool, he clung to being holy. He turned maudlin. After 1954, only an occasional throwback canvas bursts into classically delicate and astonishing, Rothkovian song. His late modes preach or whine. They condescend to us dummies, as if to browbeat us into prayerfulness. The bore in Rothko won, as he must have known at times. Then he put an end to himself. Yes, tragically.

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