CG Research: Simon Sharma – Rothko

Mark Rothko. ‘Untitled’. 1959

I watched the BBC programme by Simon Schama, ‘The Power of Art’, featuring Mark Rothko. The show featured the series known as ‘The Seagram Murals’, which are on permanent display at Tate Britain.

Apart from its obvious biographical nature, the gist of the show is that Sharma visited the Seagram murals as a young man in 1970. He was nonplussed. However, his opinion of the work changed substantially over his lifetime, and he concludes the program by saying the following.

So you see I’ve got it all wrong that morning in 1970. I thought seeing the Seagram paintings would be like a trip to the cemetery of abstraction; all dutiful reverence, a dead end.

Look at this one (above). What do you see? A hanging veil, suspended between two columns? An opening that beckons or denies entrance? A blind window? For me it’s a gateway.

If some of those portals are blocked others open into the unknown space that Rothko talked about, the place that only art can take us. Far away from the buzzing static of the moment and towards the music of the spheres.

Everything Rothko did to these paintings; the column-like forms suggested rather than drawn, the loose stainings, were all mearnt to make the surface ambiguous, porous, perhaps softly penetrable. A space that might be where we came from or where we will end up. They are meant not to keep us out but to embrace. From an artist whose highest compliment was to call you a human being.

Can anything be less cool than this room in the heart of Tate Modern? Further away from the razzle dazzle of contempory art? The frantic hustle of now? This isn’t about now. This is about forever. This is a place where you come to sit in the lowlight and feel the eons rolling by. To be taken towards the gates that open onto the threshholds of eternity. To feel the poignancy of our comings and our goings, our entrances and our exits, our births and our deaths. Womb tomb and everything between.

Can Art ever be more complete, more powerful? I dont think so.


Sharma, S. (2014) Rothko: The Power of Art. United Kingdom: BBC. Available at: (Accessed: March 1, 2023).

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