It was 1964 when Russian-born abstractionist painter Mark Rothko decided to limit his palette to that basest of pigments: black. Six years later, the artistic iconoclast would be dead by his own hand, but his inky experiments would eventually culminate in the Rothko Chapel — an experimental Houston house of worship devoted to those last, darkest works.
Now, Washington‘s National Gallery of Art is prepping the first ever exhibition of Rothko’s black-on-black geometric studies. The 14 chapel originals still stand in Texas, but the NGA’s latest “In the Tower” exhibition is tracing the roots of Rothko’s black magic backwards from his ’64 masterworks all the way to the artist’s earliest duotone flirtations with matte and flat in the 1930s.
And while the exact sights of the Rothko Chapel may be absent during the exhibition’s year-long run, its ominous soundtrack will not. Composed by Rothko’s friend, Morton Feldman, for the Chapel’s opening in 1971, the official score will be piped into the exhibit to — in the NGA’s words — “offer a free-floating commentary or obbligato.” Make of that what you will when “In the Tower: Mark Rothko” opens on Sunday, Feb. 21st in the gallery’s East Building.
For the uninitiated, a 10-minute documentary on the painter’s life will be shown continuously as well. To find out more, visit the exhibition online here.