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Mark Rothko play on PBS

Don’t miss the chance to see John Logan’s acclaimed play Red, now streaming on PBS.org through May 27.

Mark Rothko has deep roots in Portland and a special connection to the Portland Art Museum. Portland was his home as a youth after immigrating from Latvia and he took his first art classes and received his first solo exhibition at the Museum. Our connection to the Rothko family will continue as part of the Connection Campaign. Although our focus remains on sustaining the Museum through this crisis, longstanding partnerships like these remind us that our future still lies ahead of us. 

Read more about the play below from Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Sara Krajewski.

Red is set in the dimly lit studio of artistic giant Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) as he paints murals commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in the brand new Seagram Building, designed by Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe. To accomplish this herculean task, Rothko takes on an assistant, a young artist named Ken (Alfred Enoch). Rothko’s dominance in this creative space is palpable at the start; over the course of the play, the tension between the two is felt physically and philosophically. The elder artist expounds with bellicose passion on the senses and the intellect, on loneliness and camaraderie, and the victory of his generation—de Kooning, Pollock, Newman—over Picasso’s cubism. Facing the next generation in Ken, Rothko’s grandeur is dismissive when the younger artist extols the art of the now—Johns, Lichtenstein, Stella, and Warhol. The play’s depiction of these pivotal debates in art history is condensed and breathtaking, summing up a semester’s study in a fast-paced 90 minutes.

The transportive beauty and emotion of color is another character in the play. It unifies and it disrupts. Red is not just red. Its specificity and nuance, Rothko argues, are only detected over time and through close looking. Surrendering oneself to the physical experience of being with the painting, engaging one’s visual and somatic senses with its fields of color, lead to the release Rothko sought. This paean—or curse—is what makes Rothko’s non-objective work timeless and beguiling.

Sara Krajewski, Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art