With all the charm of a home fitness video, a new film in the National Gallery’s Tower introduces the museum’s current Mark Rothko exhibit. The film provides a rare look into late-period Rothko and his lesser-known black-on-black works. Allegedly part of Rothko’s quest to capture an “inner light,” these stark works stand in contrast to his warmer, more colorful efforts from the 1950s.  Every 30 minutes, the exhibit plays a musical accompaniment by Morton Feldman originally commissioned in 1971 to commemorate the opening of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX. (The chapel features similarly dark Rothkos.)
The National Gallery’s video offers a short, dry biography of the artist, with special emphasis on his relationship with color. Black played a major role in his earliest works, and in one sense, the late-period pieces can be seen as a return to that. By way of cultural context, the film touches on contemporary painters’ treatment of black as a subject—or as a lack of subject. In only seven minutes, though, the video offers little in the way of technical information and almost no interpretation of the pieces.  With the predominance of DVD extras and online bonus content, it’s hard not to expect more thorough behind-the-scenes information from a film like this.  The scholarship clearly exists, especially with an artist as omnipresent as Rothko; it’s just a matter of presenting more of it to the public.  The paintings may be black-on-black, sure—but the supplementary film could have been more colorful.