Pollock and Rothko at MoMA

While I have a definite preference for examples of ancient architecture and renaissance art, I also consider myself to be something of a jack of all trades who enjoys exploring every single thing that the artistic spectrum has to offer me.

That is why I take every opportunity I have to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which stands as a testament to the creatively fertile minds of the modern era. The work you will find here often differs enormously from that you will see at other galleries, with many of the exhibitions designed to shock and, at times, appal the viewer. Even so, each gallery and piece has a meaning behind it that reveals that the artists of today have just as much to say as those who came before.

During my numerous visits to MoMA, I have has the privilege of exploring exhibitions centred around the work of both Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, two of today’s preeminent modern artists. Here is what I discovered during my journeys.

Mark Rothko

Though he is no longer with us, having passed away in 1970, Mark Rothko’s work has contributed immensely to the development of art in the modern era. His aim was always to elicit and emotional response in those who viewed his pieces, which is why so much of his work expresses human emotions. The rawness of love, ecstasy, doom, death, and tragedy loom large in his pieces and many people have been known to break down and weep in the presence of his artistic expressions.

At their core, Rothko’s paintings challenge you to look past the surface and into the deeper meaning. Rothko himself often spoke with mild disdain of those who only examined his work with the intent of deciphering the relationships between colours, which are certainly important but are just one part of his attempts to communicate the basic human emotion that his pieces demonstrate to the world.

Rothko’s work is as much as exploration of himself as it is of the general human condition. His method of communicating with the world is truly universal, as highlighted by the fact that a man of Lithuanian heritage can so masterfully spark similar reactions in people the world over. For Rothko, making art was something of a moral act. A duty that he had to the rest of the world to communicate important messages that could affect people and make them think differently about the basic human emotions that we all encounter. I feel that this aim is achieved in all of his pieces and they have prompted me to think more deeply about the world around me.

Many of Rothko’s pieces are untitled, which further challenges the viewer to explore the work and draw conclusions. However, if I am to make recommendations based on the pieces that most affected me, I would say that you definitely have to make time for Newman by Rothko and the Number series.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock, conversely, seemed to revel in chaos and created pieces that examined the world and its events on a far grander scale. Where Rothko introduced layers of carefully-planted subtlety into his work, thus challenging the viewers mind, Pollock often seemed to approach his subjects with all of the blunt force of a sledgehammer, very much wearing his heart on his sleeve with practically every piece that he created.

Pollock’s technique was completely unique to him, though it has inspired many an artist who came later. Instead of carefully constructing his pieces, he flung and dripped enamel paints onto unstretched canvas, creating pieces that at times almost look like they are weeping.

The technique focused on improvisation, in addition to making use of the natural forces that surrounded him, such as gravity and velocity. Form took a backseat to line and colour, making his work some of the most visually striking that you are likely to lay your eyes on.

Many believe his work to be as much an expression of the materials used in their creations as they are the ideas behind them. Some of his most famous works, such as One: Number 31, 1950, express moments in time captured on the canvas. Peer a little deeper and you will see that these paintings are not mere reflections of the moment itself, but possible omens of darker futures that may be wrought by the moments themselves.

The Final Word

The works of both artists have been heavily featured at MoMA since the museum’s inception, with MoMA also having taken them to international locations to demonstrate them as being representative of the freedoms offered by democracy.

For me, both artists inspire me through their unique takes on their subject matters. You will never see anything quite like a Rothko or Pollock, despite the many people who their work inspired.

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