Recent links of note:
“Leap of faith—how Mark Rothko reimagined religious art for the modern age”
Aaron Rosen, Apollo
One of the highlights of the Tate Modern is a room dedicated to Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals. This dimly lit space, seemingly an echo of the basement gallery that houses Goya’s Pinturas negras at the Prado, comes as a shock after walking the Tate’s brightly lit, sanatorium-white halls. Perhaps the chapel-like atmosphere can come off as a tad self-serious but it both respects Rothko’s original stipulation when he donated the works to the museum and simulates the environment for which the murals were originally painted: the Four Seasons restaurant in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building in New York. Rothko ended up stiffing the Four Seasons, opting for a space at the Tate more appropriate for the murals’ religious subtext. This was ironic, as he had earlier on told a journalist that he wanted to paint “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room.” Rothko was ever a man of contradictions.
It was the Seagram Murals that originally inspired the philanthropist Dominique de Menil to commission the famous Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Newly renovated through a massive fundraising effort, the chapel is now awaiting a post-lockdown unveiling this fall. The chapel’s shifting natural light is in stark contrast to the static darkness of the Seagram Murals’ crypt-like chamber at the Tate, yet Rothko’s interest in eliciting religious experience remains evident in both projects. Aaron Rosen explores Rothko’s religious impulses further in Apollo.
“Not such a hero: the tarnished legend of Robin Hood”
Sean McGlynn, The Spectator
Dig deep enough into the folklore of England and you will eventually strike the vein of the country’s pagan past. Therein lie the true origins of Robin Hood: in medieval ballads, he is as often a murderer and petty trickster as a force for good, as Sean McGlynn writes for The Spectator.
Robin Hood’s case is no outlier. At its pagan core, English folklore is much more amoral and bizarre than one would think. A preponderance of the 305 “Child Ballads” collected in Britain by Francis James Child and published in 1860 (a key source of medieval Robin Hood lore) concern not knights, dragons, and ladies, but gruesome murders and lost maidenheads, some at the hands of Robin himself. This is an aspect of English folk culture that both centuries of Christian syncretism and the clean-cut progressive folk singers of the 1950s and ’60s went to some length to suppress. Thanks to the Pete Seegers of the world, the folk song was often co-opted as a means of moral didacticism or as evidence of the working class’s eternal struggle against oppression. Yet I doubt that any such folk singers could extract a handy moral lesson from “Bo Lampkin,” a tale of a disgruntled stone mason who murders his erstwhile employer’s wife and baby in cold blood.
“Music for a While #33: ‘Great are companions such as these’”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Porter and pals at the Parrish,” by Andrew L. Shea. A review of “Housebound: Fairfield Porter and his Circle of Poets and Painters” at The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York (through January 31, 2021).