Becoming Rothko: Edward Gero in the Rothko Room

Actor Edward Gero is blogging about his process of preparing for the role of Mark Rothko in John Logan’s Red, which opens at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in September and then here in town at Arena Stage early next year. Here, Gero shares his experience of our Rothko Room and discussion with Rothko-expert and Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann. Follow the rest of his journey as it unfolds.  

(left) The Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Max Hirshfeld. (right) Actor Edward Gero. Photo: Scott Suchman

I still am not sure what happened today. I can tell you the narrative, but I am not sure what the effect of the event is yet. Today I went to meet the new Curator at Large of The Phillips Collection, Klaus Ottmann, who was gracious enough to spend a few hours with me in the Rothko Room and at lunch talking about the artist and his art.  I came early, not knowing what to expect, but very excited to spend my first time in the first of the “Rothko Rooms.” It was installed in The Phillips Collection in 1960. The room and the four paintings were the first room ever dedicated to a single artist, which has become commonplace now, but at the time was quite the acknowledgment of Rothko.  Rothko himself consulted with the museum about the space, chose the bench for the space, and saw it completed. It is the only room he did see, unlike the much larger Rothko Chapel. He committed suicide before that project’s completion.

I was too excited to wait in the cafè, so I went immediately upstairs to the room.  I entered a very small space with off-white walls, four large canvasses, dim lights, and a simple wooden bench in the center. It was very theatrical. The lighting made for a hushed environment, like entering a meditation room. The paintings were large and imposing, dominating the space.

Having read that Rothko hoped that one would spend time with the paintings, I sat down quietly and hoped that the room and the works would start acting on me. They did.  Continue reading

Think Pink (and Guston)!

Philip Guston, Untitled (Wall), 1971. Oil on paper. Private Collection. © Estate of Philip Guston; image courtesy McKee Gallery, New York, NY

This is the first reaction of most visitors as they enter Philip Guston, Roma. Some can’t handle it, just too much pink. Personally, I don’t care for pink, but I love these paintings. A pink was chosen as the 2011 Color of the Year by Pantone, so you could say the Phillips is leading in trends.

Something to take into consideration:  When white is added to a color to lighten it, we usually call it by the name of the original color. Blue becomes light blue, or pale blue, but it is still blue. However, black becomes not light black but gray, and red becomes not pale red but pink. So these Gustons are not pink but red paintings.

The paintings are composed of primarily three colors–red, black and white. When artist Chuck Close was asked about this palette during a panel discussion here, he said that Guston’s friends used to joke that Philip went to the art store, and there was a sale on red, black, and white.

It is a handsome color combination, used for centuries. Guston had used it extensively in his paintings exhibited at Marlborough Galleries just before his stay in Rome. There is also a noticeable use in his earlier abstractions, frequently as pink. Come to think of it, a number of big macho abstract expressionists used pink. (See our Gottlieb Seer or Equinox, which also has the alchemical trinity at the bottom). It was as if pink was in the air.

Adolph Gottlieb, Equinox, 1963. Oil on canvas, 90 x 84 in. Acquired 1963. The Phillips Collection

Although Guston mixed black with white, or red with white, he never mixed all three together, for there is no violet in these paintings. Sometimes he painted black on top of red, or red on top of black, but the three colors mushed together would have introduced a different note, that of violet. His dark red comes from red straight up, rather than from the addition of black.

There are theories as to why Guston focused on red, but maybe it was just his favorite color. In the catalogue there are reproduced two pages of a letter he wrote; it is written in red ballpoint ink on blue lined yellow legal paper, an absolutely hideous color combination. But a red ink pen? He would have had to search that out from all the easily available blues and blacks. Red probably did gather certain meanings for him, but if so, he never revealed them. There are just some things you have to keep within the safe red chambers of your heart.

-Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant