Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

With the dawning of a new era, I am sure everyone spent their time differently, with some enjoying the extended holidays, while others devoted themselves to working or studying as usual. I had not taken time off over Golden Week for the past several years, but I was able to take an extended holiday exactly in accordance with the calendar, despite being in the middle of filming “Followers.” This allowed me to return to Vienna for a while.

In Vienna, with the timeless allure of a tourist spot with a legacy left behind by the House of Habsburg, and famous composers such as Mozart, you do not need to do anything special, but a mere stroll through town is a meaningful way of spending time there. Compared to Tokyo’s population of around 9.3 million, the entire population of Austria is around 8.8 million, making it a surprisingly small nation. But Vienna, the capital of such a tiny country, is where a wealth of culture, including music, art, architecture, literature, psychiatric medicine and psychology, has blossomed (the highly renowned Freud and Adler were also from Vienna).

While in Vienna, I was blessed with the opportunity to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 performed by The Vienna Philharmonic at the historical Wiener Konzerthaus. With the participation of a choir and eight soloists, it was a moving experience hearing the grand performance of the famous symphony by more than 200 people (it is frequently referred to as the “Symphony of a Thousand”) on stage.

Moreover, it is still light at 8 P.M. at this time of the year due to daylight savings time, and it is not unusual for me to take a stroll through town after dinner. So, I walked along the Ring Road lined with portraits of Holocaust survivors to visit the magnificent Kunsthistorisches Museum built under the orders of Franz Joseph I in the 19th century. My aim was nothing other than to see the exhibition of works by the painter Mark Rothko, whom I adore the most in the history of modern painting.

Mark Rothko’s pictures consist of nothing more than surfaces and lines painted in two or three colors, and at a glance, they exude tranquility, but upon closer inspection, I feel that they also exude fierceness.

Ever since I saw his works when I was around 20 years old, either at Centre Pompidou in Paris or the MOMA in New York, I have found his creations to exude agony as if portraying an unfulfilled longing to be understood by someone, which has taken my breath away every time I have come across his paintings. Mark Rothko, born Markus Rothkowitz, moved to the U.S. with his family as Jewish immigrants from Russia, and in his younger days, he experimented with a variety of painting styles. Although he was not a realist, he engaged in still-life and portrait painting, and dabbled in surrealism to try styles similar to Picasso, but the colors and motifs of his paintings became consistent from around the 1930s. He used fewer colors with increasing age, and his motifs also became increasingly simplified. As a result, each and every one of his paintings came to carry more weight, reverberating in the hearts of those who lay their eyes upon them. Later in his life, he felt that the rise of pop art through people like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein threatened the value of his existence, and he came to mistrust people, dying in solitude.

In 2009, I saw Rothko’s series of pictures representing the darkness of his final years during the Rothko exhibition held at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, and I cannot forget the suffocating sensation I felt in my heart then. The exhibition this time only had a few of his dark paintings from the final years of his life, but I was offered a peek into how Mark Rothko’s paintings evolved from the diverse works of his earlier years to those that came to epitomize him.

It is in these ways that a stroll through Vienna is always so interesting, but come to think of it, there are many wonderful art galleries and museums in Japan, too. I am currently pondering on which art gallery I should visit next.

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