Each spring I make a visit to London, my favorite city in the world and the one in which I spent 13 happy years. My two weeks there are filled with catching up with friends (many of whom are making wonderful things happen in the theatre world), seeing some fantastic shows, eating at my favorite restaurants and visiting exhibitions at some of the many galleries for which the city is renowned.
I have to admit (shamefully) that until this year, I had not been in the Tate Modern since it opened back in 2000. It is one of the most impressive examples of structural repurposing (it was the former Bankside Power Station from 1952-1981) and now houses the country’s impressive collection of contemporary art from 1900 onward in large, airy rooms over seven floors. Beyond the awe-inspiring Turbine Hall, Hirst and Lichtenstein collide; Picasso and Emin mingle with Warhol; and Kandinsky and Ofili go head-to-head.
On this day, I made my way from St. Paul’s across the “Wobbly Bridge” to the Tate to be immersed in a series of Rothko paintings originally commissioned for the Four Seasons Restaurant at New York’s Seagram’s Building in the late 1950s and which now reside permanently here. These paintings and their creation are at the center of John Logan’s RED, which Geva will be presenting in October.
This was one of the largest commissions ever witnessed in the art world at the time. The Four Seasons only had room for seven paintings, or murals. Rothko created thirty canvasses and soon realized that a restaurant would not be the proper setting for paintings of this color and magnitude and withdrew the commission. In 1969, he donated a number of the paintings to the Tate Gallery as an expression of his love of British artists (especially JMW Turner). These were moved from the Tate Gallery in Pimlico (now called Tate Britain) to the brand new Tate Modern in 2000. The installation at the Tate Modern is made up of the nine paintings that Rothko gave to the gallery. Unfortunately, I cannot share with you images from my visit to the Tate, but I invite you to imagine.
Imagine you are walking into a large, dimly-lit room. You are immediately struck by the size and scale of the paintings that surround you. You are amazed by the variety of reds: from darkest, almost black maroon, to bright cherry and every variant in between. Rothko stated that in painting these he was influenced by Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library with its blind windows, and commented that Michelangelo “achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against a wall.” Rothko meant them to be contemplative pieces and indeed, imagine that you are drawn into the paintings that envelop you – immerse you. In the mid-60s, Norman Reid, the then director of the Tate, worked closely with Rothko to suggest the ideal hang for these murals. For me, the paintings are doors and windows to a place that one can’t quite get to, but that one is sure is a very interesting place to be.
Rothko used oils, acrylics, glue tempera and glue on canvas to create this impressive body of work. An artist friend of mine mentioned that, following a recent visit, she was dismayed to see how much the paintings had faded over the years. However, this does not diminish the scale and beauty of these pieces.
When you are next in London, I encourage you to visit the Tate Modern. And see RED at Geva this fall. I know I can’t wait for this most compelling piece of theatre!
Tickets to RED go on sale to the general public, along with the rest of the 2015-2016 season, on August 4. Call the box office on (585) 232-4382 or visit www.GevaTheatre.org for more information.
Posted by Dawn Kellogg, Communications Manager.