These days you don’t often hear the word transcendental being used, particularly amid the language that accompanies the cacophonous mix of art styles and aesthetics, but it has never disappeared. To coincide with an exhibition of Rothko’s late works at Tate Modern Brice Marden pays homage to the master of the abstract sublime as well as exploring how Rothko’s taste for the transcendental has inspired his work.
The late critic and curator Robert Rosenblum famously explored how such sensibilities linked Caspar David Friedrich and Turner to the astraction of Mondrian and Rothko, and wrote how their work ‘places us on the threshold of those shapeless infinities’. As Beat Wyss writes in relation to Friedrich’s iconic Monk by the Sea c.1809, his legacy – what he calls ‘the Friedrich effect’ – saw ‘the Romantic confrontation of the ego and the cosmos transposed into the white cube of the gallery’.
When Rothko said he was attracted to ‘pictures of a single human figure – alone in a moment of utter immobility’, he could have been talking about Friedrich. But the sentiment of being transfixed by an artwork could also extend to Francis Bacon’s paintings (on view at his forthcoming retrospective at Tate Britain), or even to non-figurative works such as Lucio Fontana’s extraordinary Spatial Light – Structure in Neon for the 9th Milan Triennial 1951. Alternatively, we could become immersed and enveloped, perhaps even disorientated, in an installation by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster – an experience that may not be so far removed from Marden’s road trip.
Bice Curiger and Simon Grant