Opening the package as it arrived from Amazon, easing this massive catalogue from its slipcase triggered a memory: walking to the edge of the Grand Canyon. With similar impact: awe. David Anfam brings the reader with him to encounter, view, & experience Rothko's work. His ten-year dedication paid off with the discovery of "lost" titles, setting the chronology of 836 works on canvas, (he couldn't have been afraid to get his hands dirty) & analyzing the slow struggle, sporadic leaps engendered by the painter in the evolution of the oeuvre. As scholar, teacher, critic, curator, & especially writer, Anfam proves the perfect choice to perform the daunting, almost impossible task of bringing Rothko into focus.
The author insightfully tracks the early representational beginnings, (his foray into narrative linked with crossing boundaries is totally appropriate for the artist from Dvinsk, Portland, New York) through the mythological (application of Kermode's distinction between "Chronos" & "Kairos" is utterly intriguing), & makes a case for Rembrandt as the source for Rothko's obsessions with tragedy & darkness, Vermeer his source for color's sensuality. Anfam traces in detail, using numerous examples of the brilliant reproductions, how the multiforms foreshadowed the work of the classic period. The architectural contexts for the Chapel are pure genius: Vincent Scully's, "The Earth, the Temple, & the Gods"; Joseph Rykwert's, "The Dancing Column"; & Leo Bersani's, Ulysse Dutoit's, "Arts of Impoverishment."
Anfam's breadth of vocabulary is English, yet he has benfitted from years in the States with a rapid, laconic language that impels the reader forward, informs succinctly. Purposely parrying time-worn quarrels, he unearths the more "thorny," "shady" aspects of dilemmas presented by such a complex art.
Two things happened as a result of reading MARK ROTHKO / THE WORKS on CANVAS / CATALOGUE RAISONNE. During a recent visit to C&M Gallery in NY for a show of eight Rothko's, alone in the second room, I heard them. A few nights ago I had a dream of a handwritten note on a table in the front room of an auction house that said, "The Last Painting." Rereading Helene Cixous's essay by that name (subtitled, "Or the Portrait of God"), she writes, "I think of the last Rembrandt. A man? Or a painting?" [in Cixous', "Coming to Writing and other Essays."] Anfam has presented us with the triumphant Rothko.