With White Center – My New Favorite Painting for Today

Mark Rothko - With White Center (1957) permanent exhibit at LACMA

So I went to LACMA today and have plenty to say about that and the different exhibits but I did discover my new favorite painting for today.  “With White Center” by Mark Rothko.

Generally speaking, I hate the color red.  Truly.  It’s the color of the id, the color of no, the color of denial, the color of blood and guts, the color of all those damn SUV brake lights that flicker in my face every five seconds because the idiot driving can’t drive stick so his SUV is automatic and he never learned what the word “coast” means, and in its purest hue it’s just plain tacky.  It’s slatternly and louche and not very smart.  And more often than not, when I look at the color red I find myself internally screaming dis-ap-POIN-TED like Otto in A Fish Called Wanda when he opens the safe and it’s empty.

With all that said, this painting did not make me angry or disappointed it made me melancholy.  The scale is large and the image is spare, but the red, both in the background wash and the central image is vibrant and even joyous.  It’s beautiful and a little raucous, practically alive in the incandescent lighting, but the white center constricts and binds the image.  It holds the painting together and centers it, but its “purity” is also overbearing and tightening around the center, almost squeezing the life out of it.  The colors were at odds with each other and even though it’s just a small part of the painting, the white dominates and controls everything.  And rather than being transcendent or pure, which are traits I normally associate with the color white, it’s cold and domineering.  This gives the painting, for me, a forced balance that is simultaneously harmonious and dissonant.

There were other paintings and sculptures that lured me in, many that demanded attention, but “With White Center,” hanging off in a corner, asked me to sit down and just look at it.

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4 Responses to With White Center – My New Favorite Painting for Today

  1. Maura says:

    Did you end the slideshow with a photo of your glass storage containers, just to see if we were paying attention?

    I love Rothko. He might be my favorite artist. I can’t articulate my feelings about his work as well as you’ve articulated yours, but his paintings move me in a way that few others do.

    You’re not a dilettante. You’re a natural.

    • Heh. No, those lovely storage containers were in the “German Expressionism and Bauhaus” gallery, so they were displayed not far from “God the Father Hovering.” I rather enjoyed the juxtaposition so I thought I’d share it.

      And thanks. I was surprised to see how much that one painting affected me because there were other far more openly emotional paintings but it really was a dominating presence in the room. The way LACMA presents it adds a lot to its impact as well.

  2. A. J. Teshin says:

    You know Dina, I came across a poster of this painting online, and considered getting it, but later changed my mind. I didn’t realize the original was out here in LA until I read your blog entry, so thank you! You’re off to a great start here, keep up the good work.

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