Rothko Room Guide Introduction

Exhibition banner for Mark Rothko at Tate Modern

This exhibition focuses on the late work of Mark Rothko (1903–1970), especially his works in series. At their heart are strategies of repetition and variation on a theme, encapsulated in Rothko’s statement that ‘If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again – exploring it, probing it, demanding by its repetition that the public look at it.’

Such ideas had already been integral to his colour field works of the 1950s. Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, however, they took on a new importance as Rothko explored the concept of the series, which provided him with a method of critical self-enquiry and as a way of investigating the continuing possibilities of painting in an increasingly image-saturated culture. The process emerged, in part, from various commissions to create ambitious painterly environments. The first of these was for the newly opened Seagram building on New York’s Park Avenue. Made in 1958–9, the Seagram Murals never reached their original destination, after Rothko decided that a private dining room was an unsuitable environment to experience his paintings. Yet for much of the next decade he was preoccupied with the murals’ display, and the intellectual and painterly questions underpinning their conception.

Though he continued to produce individual paintings and works on paper of great quality, it was the series and commissions at the centre of this exhibition that formed the cornerstones of his late work.

Rothko: The Late Series is curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Curator, with Kerryn Greenberg, Assistant Curator.

Rothko Room 1: The Seagram murals between New York and London

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009; exhibition room guide

Rothko Room 2: Four Darks in Red 1958

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009 room two

Rothko Room 3: The Seagram Murals

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009; exhibition room guide

Rothko Room 4: Material History

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009; exhibition room guide

Rothko Room 5: Towards the Houston Chapel

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009 room five

Rothko Room 6: Black-Form Paintings

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009 room six

Rothko Room 7: Seagram Studies

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009; exhibition room guide

Rothko Room 8: Brown and Gray works on paper

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009 room eight

Rothko Room 9: Black on Gray

Rothko at Tate Modern 26 September 2008 – 1 February 2009; exhibition room guide