In an ideal world, or parallel universe if not in an ideal world (or is that the same thing?), art galleries would allow solo entry only.
Last weekend I went to Washington D.C. for a short holiday. While I was there, I visited the Phillips Collection, for my first of many injections of art that weekend.
The Phillips Collection includes what is called the Rothko Room. My first impression of the Rothko Room was to exclaim in that know-it-all art student way: ‘I don’t think Rothko would like this room’. To me, the room felt cramped and not at all soothing and condusive to Rothko contemplation. While I was in the Rothko Room, there were about five other people looking at the Rothkos at the same time as me. I thought to myself: ‘These are Rothkos, I need to spend a few minutes looking at them and feeling the sublime he meant to convey’. In that room, I felt that I had to ‘force’ the feeling. This felt wrong. To me, this went against what Rothko aimed with his abstract pieces. So I concluded that the error was in the room (its dimensions or lighting, I wasn’t sure which) and that Rothko would be frowning.
So I sat on the bench in the middle of the room (see photo above, that’s the bench) and contemplated one of the four Rothkos. I looked at it. I tried to feel the sublime. I started to feel it. It was coming. The feelings grew. It was good. It just needed a bit more. I shifted slightly in my position. It helped. It was almost there. I just needed to wait a little longer and I’d reach Rothko nirvana.
While I was going through this, the other visitors left the room. And it was at this point that I realised what had been wrong with the room; it wasn’t the dimensions, or the lighting, it was the fact that other people had been in the room at the same time as me. They had been the element that had ruined the experience for me.
At this point I decided to read the blurb about the room and in doing this I found out that Rothko had been heavily involved in the design and intention of the room. He had liked the room, despite my first impressions of it. He designed the room himself and actually spent time in the room contemplating his paintings. It was designed to be a sort of ‘chapel’ to the four paintings and to silent contemplation of the colours and juxtapositions in the paintings. Other Roktho spaces have since used the Rothko Room as a guide to their own Rothko requirements.
It worked. It really did work. Rothko was right. But for me, it only worked when I was alone in the room. It was if something suddenly clicked. I ‘got’ it once the distractions had left the room (the five other people). And ‘it’ was amazing. ‘It’ is too hard to describe. The only way to experience ‘it’ is to go to Washington D.C. yourself and experience ‘it’ for yourself. If you do, I urge you to wait until the room clears.
As the weekend progressed, I saw much, much more art. I went to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Art (particularly the East Wing). I saw a lot of amazing art. I was awed, I was amazed and I was dazzled. However, since my trip to the Rothko Room I realised the extent to which other people distracted me, almost to the point of irritation.
The issue arises from the fact that I actively enjoy people watching in art galleries. I like to observe how they look at art. It fascinates me. There are those that aim to look at everything and give the same time span to each piece. There are those like me that flit about from work to work and just see what grabs. There are those that come to see a select few pieces and spend more time on those few. There are also families, couples, single people, students and arty farty pretentious moi? types. I love it all. However, they are a distraction. They stop me really appreciating the artworks on display. What is the solution? Get rid of them of course.
So if there is a parallel universe where art galleries don’t need to count foot fall, I’d like to see such art galleries permitting entry to one person at a time so that that one person could choose what they want to look at and not be distracted either physically by bodies in the way of what they are seeing or mentally by the activities of behaviours of those bodies.
All I need to do now is find a portal to this parallel universe I can imagine and go there and experience the sublime, the awe, the wonder and the essence that is art.