New York

Mark Rothko

Marlborough | Chelsea

Marlborough’s recent show of paintings by Mark Rothko was apparently intended to culminate in the small separate room which contained four of the artist’s last works. Perhaps the isolation of the last paintings, the most austere and ungenerous of Rothko’s career, was meant as an honorific gesture, but the effect of it was cheaply dramatic. The sepulchral atmosphere of the small room did depend upon the paintings, but it was made by the installation to seem to be the point of the paintings, a bit of stagecraft that Rothko would undoubtedly have thought revolting. Worse, of course, was the fact that this arrangement seemed to encourage vulgar speculation as to the artist’s reasons for suicide (one had only to listen to the comments of visitors when in the small room), and thus it seemed subtly to traduce the genuine solemnity of much of Rothko’s output.

The paintings dated 1970 are almost

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