Referencing Mark Rothko and his abstract expressionist paintings has become something of a cultural currency lately among hiptellectuals. If recent cameos on Mad Men and in David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of Cosmopolis are any indication, the surging interest in Rothko’s instantly recognizable color fields may be a reflection of our own society’s need to connect with a feeling of the sublime, which to Rothko, was the real purpose of art.
Though Mad Men takes place in the early 1960s and Cosmopolis in the not-too-distant future, the writers behind these works reflect on Rothko’s legacy from a 21st century vantage point, harnessing his philosophically-rooted ideas – like the power of color to evoke timeless human emotions and to tap into something universally meaningful – and reintroducing them to contemporary audiences in a way that resonates with people feeling overwhelmed, displaced, and unsettled, much like the characters in these shows.
In a time of boom and bust, there is a line from John Logan’s award-winning play RED, which recently closed in Los Angeles, that seems particularly apt: Alfred Molina, reprising his role as Mark Rothko, bellows to his assistant, “What has significance?” After all, Rothko reminds him, “I’m not here to make pretty pictures.” Timeless as ever, the work of Mark Rothko continues to make headlines and inspire future generations of artists.
-Nicole Garton For Saatchi Online