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Rothko's appetite suppressant sauced up

by Ted Welch Mon Oct 8th, 2012 at 05:56:37 PM EST

A Russian makes a Rothko mildly interesting by writing on it:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/oct/07/rothko-painting-defaced-tate-modern

But it's just another bit of Art apparently, another attempt to be the most radical, art as a negation of art, a gesture to advance "Yellowism":

"The main difference between yellowism and art is that in art you have got freedom of interpretation. In yellowism you don't have freedom of interpretation, everything is about yellowism, that's it"

http://www.channel4.com/news/rothko-attack-was-act-of-yellowism-says-russian-artist


Those tempted to worship at the alter of Art, should note that this work was part of a set that was intended as chic interior decoration for a NY restaurant for the rich, the Four Seasons in the Seagram building:

"Rothko completed forty paintings, three full series in dark red and brown. He altered his horizontal format to vertical to complement the restaurant's vertical features: columns, walls, doors and windows."

 Naturally, Rothko, as an old-time anti-bourgeois bohemian wasn't exactly comfortable with this, though he could do with the money. So how were wealthy customers supposed to react to these works ? Admire what is now seen, e.g; according to the BBC arts correspondent, as their "sombre, thoughtful" nature ? That wasn't at all what Rothko was trying for:

"... he disclosed to John Fischer, publisher of Harper's, that his true intention for the Seagram murals was to paint 'something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won't. People can stand anything these days.' "

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Rothko#Reactions_to_his_own_increasing_success

Indeed they can, if some critic insists that they are Art, a major gallery agrees and if they're expensive. Significantly the Guardian's report begins by noting their financial value and location (nothing about the proposed location and Rothko's feelings about its customers):

"A man has defaced a multimillion-pound Mark Rothko mural hanging in theTate Modern gallery ..."

In the end Rothko so hated the restaurant that he refused to go through with the project (he was now selling anyway); he seems to have lost faith in the ability of his work to disturb the digestion of the rich:

"Once back in New York, Rothko and wife Mell visited the near-completed Four Seasons restaurant. Upset with the restaurant's dining atmosphere, which he considered pretentious and inappropriate for the display of his works, Rothko immediately refused to continue the project, and returned the commission cash advance to the Seagram and Sons Company." Ibid

If he knew how much money the rich are now making from his works I think he'd be cheering the Russian on - though wishing he had a really radical message to scrawl, like "Ruin the appetite of the rich - start the revolution".

Display:
Good to see you here again, Ted!

Yeah, the Four Seasons set would make anyone think of drowning in shit rather than having a good meal. I suppose repaying the advance was the Right Thing To Do, but it might have been fun to sabotage the swanky restaurant decor while taking their money.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 01:58:41 AM EST

But such works wouldn't have been seen as "sabotage" - the smart set would have congratulated themselves for being aware of the correct theory to enable them to "see" these as not just as Art, but the latest correct tendency; Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg were smart propagandists.

Yesterday I re-read Tom Wolfe's "The Painted Word", very funny and so true, I think I might do a LQD of some of the best bits, e.g.:

"What I saw before me was the critic-in-chief of the NYT saying: In looking at a painting today "to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial." I read it again. It didn't say "something helpful" or "enriching" or even "extremely valuable"." No, the word was CRUCIAL.

In short, frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can't see a painting.

...
I had gotten it backward all along. Not "seeing is believing," you ninny, but "believing is seeing," for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text." (of Greenberg, Rosenberg et al, TW).

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 03:37:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's good.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 03:47:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted:
I think I might do a LQD
Will wonders never cease?

I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 02:04:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The defacing graffiti:

One of the panels:

Another narrative:

THE ART SYN: ROTHKO@Tate Modern ... a MUST SEE

The legend has it that Rothko first thought his paintings were going to be hung in the workers' canteen. When he realised they were going to be in a very posh and elitist restaurant instead, he withdrew from the assigned work and gave seven of them to the Tate Modern. The donated paintings arrived the day he died.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 02:08:44 AM EST
This seems like a case of "print the legend" - this version wouldn't fit with his comment to the publisher of Harpers.

But anyway I don't think the workers would have welcomed them, though some might have been intimidated by the fact that art commissars had declared them virtually sacred. Abstract Expressionism wasn't really popular even with the very small Art set:

"" 'Considering the degree to which  is publicized and feted', Rosenberg said 'vanguard painting is hardly bought at all.' "

Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, p. 67

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 03:52:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I find the workers' canteen story pretty hard to believe.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:00:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even that didn't impress a prisoner at Riker's Island who threw a cup of coffee at the Dali Crucifixion hanging in the canteen.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 01:57:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And then it was moved.

Surreal theft as Dali sketch escapes jail | World news | The Guardian

For 16 years, the sketch hung in a corner of the inmates' dining room until a prisoner threw a cup of coffee at it. It was then re-hung where only prison officers and their guests were able to see it.

And in 2003 it was stolen, but apparently no one can figure out how.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 06:56:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A visit to the Rothko museum in Houston made me think "no wonder he killed himself."  I think they call it the "Rothko Chapel."

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 08:33:09 AM EST
His later paintings were not so much why he killed himself as witness of his growing paranoia and despair.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 03:24:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Made worse by the fact that he was a heavy drinker, as was his wife who died of heart attack at 48. Kate, their daughter, felt that the difference in attendance at the funerals was revealing about the art world (understanding of which must have added to Rothko's depression):

" 'At my father's funeral, people were pouring out of the woodwork,' says Kate. 'But I would have to question why they were there, because only about 10 people came to my mother's. She'd known these people for 25 years, and now it was like she was... ' A footnote? 'Yes. It was disillusioning for me to see the superficiality of the art world, and that has never gone away ..."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/sep/14/art1

Then there was the fight over his legacy, again revealing the sick nature of the art world:

To everyone's amazement, Kate and Christopher Rothko won, and the court issued a crushing verdict. The executors were thrown out for 'improvidence and waste verging on gross negligence'. Reis and Stamos, long-time friends of Mark Rothko, were found to have been in conflict of interest; as executors, they could not negotiate with the Marlborough because the company had both of them on its payroll. All contracts between the Marlborough and the Rothko estate were declared void, and the judge awarded damages of more than $9m against Frank Lloyd, the founder of Marlborough Fine Art, who had laundered art through myriad Liechtenstein holding companies, and the executors."

Ibid

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:14:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
maybe...

Crazy! Rothko and Jackson Pollock were on the CIA tab - garry's subposterous

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that it acted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.

The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art - President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: "If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot." As for the artists themselves, many were ex- com- munists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.



'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:21:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The real link is to a long article here.

From which it emerges that the CIA ran a culture war with the Soviets, and promoting Abstract Expressionism was part of it. Whether Rothko or any of the other artists was aware of it is another matter:

Modern art was CIA 'weapon' - World - News - The Independent

"Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I'd love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!" he joked. "But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.

"In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another."

To pursue its underground interest in America's lefty avant-garde, the CIA had to be sure its patronage could not be discovered. "Matters of this sort could only have been done at two or three removes," Mr Jameson explained, "so that there wouldn't be any question of having to clear Jackson Pollock, for example, or do anything that would involve these people in the organisation. And it couldn't have been any closer, because most of them were people who had very little respect for the government, in particular, and certainly none for the CIA. If you had to use people who considered themselves one way or another to be closer to Moscow than to Washington, well, so much the better perhaps."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:37:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
heh, it reminds me of some talking head business leader i heard in the background on da toob today saying: 'the idea is to get maximum market share without anyone realising it'

softly softly...

i used to massage a famous modern artist, lauded internationally, exhibiting and lecturing all over.

i always wondered if some of his tension came from having to go out and 'dress the emperor' as a paying gig on a regular basis, when he wasn't winning prizes for smearing stuff onto other stuff.

it was enlightening seeing the gilded cage of 'successful identity' up so close. i lacked the necessary talents to do much for him, regrettably, though his kind wife wanted it to work so badly so i chipped away notwithstanding my obvious inability to achieve my goal.

the adoring gullibility of unthinking fans never ceases to amaze, a visceral clutch for meaning, a rescue from the mortal fear of missing some cultural bus, getting left behind to drown in clueless insignificance.

so human!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 05:11:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Both collectors and some parts of the public seem to have a need to find people who embody the ideal of the The Artist.

The work doesn't have to be outstanding - it just needs to believable enough to fill the niche.

Problem is, a lot of contemporary art has become an exercise in verbal self-justification and marketing rather than an exercise in visual creativity.

I guess art school doesn't really explain that Show Don't Tell thing any more.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 05:44:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
true...

we got the galleries, the drivel review spouters, the PR machine, the gear, now all that's left is to find people who do something real, and if we can't do that we'll shove joe bloggs through the grinder and we'll have to pretend that's what we needed/wanted.

scruffy tent or formaldehyde shark, it's all good, if we can move the merch...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 08:18:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]

See also my diary:

 Rapallo - art, treason, conspiracy and affirmation

http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2009/5/19/115424/067

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 06:25:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This has become a standard weapon to attack art you don't like. Taruskin has done the same with modern music, resulting in an exchange of letters in the NYRB in which Charles Rosen (I think) pointed out that the CIA also used leading jazz musicians, but that this somehow doesn't discredit jazz as well.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 02:15:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"This has become a standard weapon to attack art you don't like. '

It can hardly be a "standard" weapon to attack any art you don't like. We're talking about a specific period and a specific covert CIA programme, which included painting and music, to promote US interests on the cultural front:

"In 1950, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) surreptitiously created the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) to counter the Cominform's "peace offensive"(Wilford 101). The Congress had "offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over twenty prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and features service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances" at its peak (Saunders 2000). The intent of these endeavors was to "showcase" US and European high culture, including not just musical works but paintings, ballets, and other artistic avenues, for the benefit of neutralist foreign intellectuals (Wilford 102)."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_CIA_and_the_Cultural_Cold_War

Though this was a huge programme, the CIA's role was covert - see the quotation in afew's comment above.

Nobody sensible claims that such a connection of itself "discredits" something; the CIA funds some important scientific research, even Chomsky has benefitted from Department of Defense funding:

"Chomsky's research was conducted in a laboratory funded mainly by the US military - the `Research Laboratory of Electronics' at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The preface to Syntactic Structures concludes:

`This work was supported in part by the U.S.A. Army (Signal Corps), the Air Force (Office of Scientific Research, Air Research and Development Command), and the Navy (Office of Naval Research); and in part by the National Science Foundation and the Eastman Kodak Corporation.'(3)"

http://libcom.org/history/noam-chomsky-politics-or-science

However, the long-neglected but now well-established fact of covert CIA funding for Abstract Expressionism does help to explain its quite rapid (if brief) success. Part of the reason for the secrecy was that, despite being presented as symbolic of US individual freedom, abstract expressionsim was not at all popular with the US public and some populist US politicians attacked it.

In The Painted Word Tom Wolfe makes no mention of the CIA and focuses on discrediting the theory behind AE and subsequent movements (whose propagandists themselves attacked the theory behind AE, as not going far enough). He did so very well, despite the bleating of the proponents of the various contending theories.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 09:12:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It can hardly be a "standard" weapon to attack any art you don't like.

I thought it was clear that I was talking about this specific period.

Nobody sensible claims that such a connection of itself "discredits" something;

I agree. But there are lots of unsensible people out there.

However, the long-neglected but now well-established fact of covert CIA funding for Abstract Expressionism does help to explain its quite rapid (if brief) success.

A look at today's art world suggests that the CIA involvement was not needed.....

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 09:29:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh yes.

After the Soviets decided on Social Realism was their Official Art the CIA decided Abstract Expressionism was The Art of the US.

Several ironies in the fire wrt The Triumph of the New York School:


 

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 05:07:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Artistic Triumph Of New York | American History Lives at American Heritage

The picture, an oil painting dating from 1984, is called Triumph of the New York School . It records a thrilling moment presumed to have taken place in the late 1940s, the moment New York supplanted Paris as the art capital of the world and home of the international avant-garde.

One of Tansey's ironies is that his picture is wholly committed to the representation of a scene and as such stands in diametrical opposition to Abstract Expressionism, the movement that vaulted the New York school of painting into a position of international dominance. In sepia tones suggestive of an old photograph, with a war-ravaged landscape as backdrop, Tansey's huge canvas depicts one set of military men surrendering to another. The defeated group of soldiers on the left of the painting is dressed in French uniforms from World War I. The victorious men facing them wear the battle fatigues of American soldiers in World War II. At the center of the picture is a table on which the surrender is at this moment being signed by André Breton, the leader of the French surrealists and the presumptive spokesman of his era. 

Breton, who was known as "the Pope of surrealism," is observed approvingly by the commander of the victorious Americans, the art critic Clement Greenberg, champion of "Americantype painting" (his name for it), whose pronouncements on painterly matters were supposedly heeded, in the galleries and lofts of New York, as though they were the orders of a five-star general. Breton's forces include Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Juan Gris, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Rousseau, and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who brilliantly promoted the school of Paris, launched cubism, and championed surrealism. Greenberg's adjutants are such mainstays of the New York school as the painters Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, and Arshile Gorky, the sculptor David Smith, and the critic Harold Rosenberg, who vied with Greenberg for the distinction of being the group's chief hierophant.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 05:19:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Another example of Wolfe's point about the triumph of theory:

"Mark Tansey is a definitively post-modernist painter. His pictures stand at two removes from nature; not art but art history (or art theory) is his subject. Tansey deals in theories and notions..."

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 06:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 Jonathon Jones writes in the Guardian about the Four Seasons commission. He adds some detail, but comes to essentially the same conclusion as me; these were not "sombre, thoughtful" works (BBC), but angry, aggressive ones - in intention anyway:

"Sitting amid the buzz and excess of the Four Seasons, Rothko must have felt that he had been deluded - that the wealthy diners were not going to be harrowed. That art could not change anything. That his paintings would just be decoration after all."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2002/dec/07/artsfeatures

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Oct 11th, 2012 at 03:16:07 PM EST


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