Rothko in his West 53rd Street studio, painting what may be a version of Untitled,1952-1953 (Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao), photograph by Henry Elkan, c. 1953
In 1954 Rothko asked that his largest pictures be installed
"so that they must be first encountered at close quarters, so
that the first experience is to be within the picture." He said:
Since my pictures are large, colorful, and unframed, and since museum walls are usually
immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative
areas to the walls. This would be a distortion of their meaning, since
the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative; and have
been painted in a scale of normal living rather than an institutional scale. I have on
occasion successfully dealt with this problem by tending to crowd the show rather than making it spare.
By saturating the room with the feeling of the work, the
walls are defeated and the poignancy of each single work...become[s] more visible.
I also hang the largest pictures so that they must be first encountered at close quarters, so
that the first experience is to be within the picture. This may well give the key to the
observer of the ideal relationship between himself and the rest of the pictures. I also hang the pictures
low rather than high, and particularly in the case of
the largest ones, often as close to the floor as is feasible, for that is the way they are
painted. And last, it may be worthwhile trying to hang something beyond the partial wall
because some of the pictures do very well in a confined space.
--quotation courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago
Copyright © 2008
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC