Thursday, August 09, 2007

The heart of light, the silence

We went to the Tate Modern in London last week. Despite the fact that it's such a huge space, I find it strangely disappointing that the gallery rooms are all small, so that it feels as though you have to file by the artworks, which is a bit too close to ticking off the sights for my taste, and follow the familiar pattern of white walls and pale wooden floors. What's exhibited consequently seems somehow stale and dead.

On each of my visits I am always drawn to the same place: the Rothko room. Rothko was commissioned by the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York, to create artwork for their walls, but before he'd even finished the sequence of paintings he abandoned the idea of putting them in a room full of people eating, as being incompatible with what the paintings ask for, which is contemplation. This was the right decision (although when I first saw them, in a room at the old Tate Gallery, I was childishly moved to comment that they were rather foodlike - one of them clearly depicts two fish fingers on a slice of burnt toast - as usual in attempt to avoid being pretentious I went to the opposite, prosaic extreme). What springs to mind on looking at them is the line about looking in to the heart of light, the silence. They are displayed in their own room, although there is no door, in dim light as specified by the artist. Having been to Stonehenge for the first time a few days earlier I was struck by the parallels between those bold shapes. Doors open or closed? Gateway or barrier?

The most compelling for me is T01165 - portrait-shaped, with blood/rust red oblongs on a pale, almost lilac background. I'm pulled in to thinking about nothing and minutes pass by effortlessly.

After seeing them I wandered out into the gallery again, but the rest just seemed like noise.

-Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed' und leer das Meer.

TS Eliot, The Waste Land

1 comment:

Al said...

The Rothko room is my favourite place in London. I first fell in love when it was in the old Tate (before the cofee shops, foreign exchange students and noisy installations) when I was about 12. This blog has just about made my day.