Time off - Art

19th September 2008 at 01:00

Rothko, Tate Modern

Looking at a Mark Rothko painting is about as reassuring as glancing up to find your cat is wearing your dead grandmother's face, or your belly button has transformed into a small mouth, and is smoking a crack pipe. That is to say, it's a bit unnerving. But if mental disturbance is your thing, then the Tate Modern's Rothko exhibition (September 26 - February 1, tickets Pounds 12.50) is the place to savour it.

The artist claimed he painted the large, blotchy Seagram murals that make up the centrepiece of this exhibition to make the viewer feel as though they were alone in a dark room, banging their head against a wall for all eternity. And it's fair to say he achieved his aim. Looking at these paintings is a bit like being squashed under a giant maroon boulder. But despite their eerie claustrophobia, the Tate's Rothko room remains one of the gallery's biggest attractions.

This exhibition brings these pieces - originally painted for New York's Seagram restaurant (before presumably the owners realised they would induce mass self-harm over the salmon fish cakes) - together with later works such as the Black on Grey paintings, finished in the final years before his suicide aged 66 in 1970.

Rothko's work might never make an attractive tea towel or coaster, but its oppressive power is truly awe-inspiring.

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