November 9, 2006
Was Judaism a color on Rothko’s palette?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)The writer, Rodger Kamenetz, has described the Dalai Lama's search for his people's continuity by asking about the inner life of the Jew. Some Jews, like Ram Das (born Richard Alpert) have found a more meaningful spiritual inner life through Buddhism. I thought of this recently when reading of the passing, in Santa Barbara, of my friend and colleague, Marcia Tucker (born Silverman) -- one of the most influential museum people of her generation -- and noting that "a private Buddhist ceremony" would be taking place. Perhaps Rothko was Jewishly way ahead of the pack -- more than was understood in his own time.
It's both liberating and burdensome to confront -- really face-to-face -- a large Rothko color painting. It's liberating because you're on your own, and we know from many of his comments that the artist wants us to be on our own, guided by our own best instincts. He understood the solitary experience of looking at art, and he challenged us to take that on. That can be difficult, since it's generally easier to engage in museum group gropes -- gallery discussions, chit-chat about how beautiful something is, the need to share and verbalize one's feelings, thus escaping solitary silent confrontation. But Rothko has always demanded of us that we brave it alone and think (and look) for ourselves, and perhaps that's his most lasting Jewish quality.
"MOCA's Mark Rothkos" continues through January 21, 2007 at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood. (310) 289-5223.
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