Writing in the London Times, Rachael Campbell-Johnson writes
it feels like stepping into a cathedral. It has a melancholy, almost sacramental, magnificence which comes partly from the scale of the installation and partly from the way that the colours almost open like windows, then close like veils drawn across a void. The eye slowly loses itself in its own thoughts.
And as Waldemar Januszczak writes
Rothko’s paintings are almost invariably understood as religious art without the religion; Judaism without the Torah. At its most purple, the myth seems even to note an accord between these gloomy Turnerisms and the Holocaust. His suicide topped it all off splendidly.
At college, I got off on all of this big time, turning my Joy Division off for a mo, parking my Hermann Hesse novels on the shelf and looking longingly at my Poetry Society prize on the wall.
I wrote a (way too) long long essay on the relationship between Rothko and the Kaballah and looked long and hard in to the deep, dark, troubled soul that used to sit in the Rothko Room at the Tate Gallery as a teenager.
Almost as soon as the artist topped himself, everyone raided his art for whatever subliminal or intellectual desire they so chose. He was the Triumph of American Painting. He was the apotheosis of the tragic, tortured soul. He was the twinkling of God speaking to us. He was well...anything anyone wanted to make up that was soaring, meaningful, suicidal and...
Now I still believe much of this is true but one thing has been forgotten: and something that is exemplified by the acres of picture coverage given over to the current show in London and the roaring trade in Rothko posters and calendars.
What's forgotten is the decorative power of this work: and also the decorative nature of the language.
For all of the super-powered angst and verbiage surrounding his art, go on, admit it, it's all disarmingly attractive. It looks nice. It's slick, simple and phosphorous...like this piece of graffiti in a tunnel in Djakarta.
In a review of a book of photographs of Britain's urban landscapes earlier this year, the architecture critic of the Financial Times Edwin Heathcote wrote about the photography of Martin Parr and the genre of coffee table books devoted to pictures of distribution centres, service stations, round-abouts and other odds and sods of fetishized urban blankness.
He described these images as the boring presented to the knowing.
Go on. Own up. Rothko's work is spiritual, mystic etc. etc. but it is also disarmingly decorative, pretty and something deadly dull that we fill with our own interesting-ness - or not.