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Abstract expressionism: when art became larger than life

February 12, 2010

With their giant canvases and towering ambition, Gorky and Rothko transcended everything we thought possible of art today

Mark Rothko's Red on Maroon mural sections at Tate Modern

Aiming high … Mark Rothko’s Red on Maroon mural sections at Tate Modern. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

The abstract expressionists, those Amercian artists who made their country’s art famous 60 years ago, cannot be ignored. They are so real and so massive; so absolute.

They’ve rolled back over me recently. Walking into Tate Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, I found that Mark Rothko had got to the Albert Dock before me. His Seagram Murals currently hang in a warehouse space on the ground floor of the museum, and I found them devastatingly beautiful. Their wine-dark ecstasy pays such Bacchic homage to the House of Mysteries in Pompeii, whose paintings he saw while planning them. Just recently, I saw Roman wall paintings in the archaeological museum in Naples that bleed with Rothko reds.

Rothko is a great artist, and so is Arshile Gorky, whose retrospective has just opened at Tate Modern. I’ll be reviewing that shortly, so I will just comment more generally on how Gorky and Rothko transcended almost everything we now expect art to be. They aspired to greatness – a quality almost no art nowadays believes it can attain. Some people call them pompous for that; I call them courageous.

Read more at: When art became larger than life

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