PRINT May 1998


This month the National Gallery in Washington, DC, opens the first full-scale American retrospective of MARK ROTHKO’s work in twenty years. To mark the occasion, art historian Robert Rosenblum, who with this issue joins Artforum’s masthead as a contributing editor, offers a personal chronology of his five-decade-long dialogue with the artist’s work.

ca. 1953 Amazing to recall, now that he is as permanently enshrined in the pantheon of artist-deities as Matisse or Mondrian, but Rothko, back in the early ’50s, was a fighting word. I remember vividly the combative, black-and-white climate that divided the New York art world into pro-or-con extremes when faced with the unheralded innovations of the Abstract Expressionists. And in my own academic neck of the woods, NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, there were no-less-heated debates among us graduate students about whether such things as a chaos of poured pigment or a few blurry rectangles of color could possibly be serious art. And on a more sophisticated level, someone—I can’t remember who—quipped that Rothko’s canvases looked like Buddhist television sets. A few of us embraced positively these new experiences, though mainly as an act of faith, a quantum leap into the unknown. What most of

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