By John F Keane

Location: Whitworth Art Gallery, Oxford Road

Martin found himself in a strange, unhallowed hall. Vast canvases surrounded him, utterly abstract yet oddly inviting. It was like a clearing had opened in the world, a vast space beyond all conceptual limits. His mind-chatter ceased, exposing a sacred silence. He sensed this artist knew the world’s secret, knew all about the Hate Machine. This was art of an infinitely higher order than pop music or films. Its elements were bafflingly complex in their simplicity, deceptively artful in their crudity.

The paintings were hardly serene or remote – far from it; they were intimate statements deploying self-referential, mythic elements. They called out to him, somehow, demanding his attention.

‘Wonderful, aren’t they?’ said a gravelly voice behind him.

‘Yes – yes, they are.’

It was an old man who looked to be Jewish. Of course, he might not be: he might be anything.

‘Mark Rothko truly grasped the human condition,’ he opined expansively, his stick clicking on the polished floor. ‘He sensed the incessant pressure of modern life – the walls that bind us.’

Martin nodded: The Hate Machine.

‘He sensed correctly that religion offers no tenable salvation to modern man. His art seeks a secular solution to our “thrownness” – not unsuccessfully, if I may be so bold.’

‘Are you some kind of art expert?’

‘Some would say so. Rothko recommended the viewer should stand eighteen inches from his paintings, by the way, to feel their full effect.’

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2 Responses to “Sacrament”

  1. December 08, 2009 at 1:24 pm, Ian D Smith said:

    Fascinating and thought-provoking story. Thank you. Rothko was persecuted as a Jew and then as an artist. No surprise that he took on the Rothko Chapel, where “the universal spiritual” aspect of [his] work would complement the elements of Roman Catholicism”. He saw that “literal Christian belief” was far from an “outworn cultural specific”, but part of the “universal spiritual aspect”. He showed that the “Hate Machine” (nice image for lumpen secularism) shouldn’t persecute Christianity, Islam, Judaism. He was a truly great artist.

  2. January 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm, jim holloway said:

    But the world isn’t just a hate machine; and the numbers “pouring in” are largely balanced by those “pouring out”. Yes, sometimes it feels pretty grim, but other times even the chavs and wanky students can show their humanity.
    I’ll look out for Rothko, though!


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