If the title did not impress you then you have never seen a real Rothko yet; book pictures don’t say much in this case. So, this is your chance, a lifetime chance I should say, since it is “The first Dutch Rothko exhibition for 40 years at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag”, as the museum itself rightly states. One way or the other, Rothko’s paintings do make a vast impression and stick to the mind, even of those who despise him. The relevant commentary started way before the opening of the exhibition but I think that it is slowly subsiding as the spectators keep streaming in the museum rooms.
Nevertheless, and since this is a must exhibition in the terms of international cultured audiences as well as new audiences with cosmopolitan potential, you should not miss out; but do go prepared.
What to expect
Expect to stand in a queue, not a too dramatic one, but good enough to make sure you will not have a spiritual experience as the artist would have wished (as usually, beside the point).
Consequently, expect to share your viewing space with many other people, often with groups and their guide. This one you can see as a bonus, as you can stand close and listen too; though most people use their own headphone guide, provided at the entrance.
The exhibition is straight forward museum minded. So, expect an educational set up targeting the wider public. The beginning, the middle and the end of Rothko’s art are clearly marked and explained.
Especially for the end, there is a Dutch crescendo indeed with the room “Rothko and Mondriaan side-by-side”. This is the point that asks for commentary; a real discussion starter, so mark well your impressions.
What not to expect
Don’t expect to “weep in front of the paintings” as Rothko himself was commemorating when talking about the reaction of his audience; with great satisfaction I suppose. It won’t happen here unless you have the gift to disconnect at will from your environment of very close proximity. Besides, this is central Europe and the expression of emotions is well tamed; religious or spiritual awe is not the norm.
What to look for
Don’t leave the exhibition without seeing the video scape of the chapel with Rothko’s darkest paintings.
If you are taking children with you, look for the museum’s special children’s gallery which presents the original drawings from the new children’s book Puzemuze, of op weg naar Rothko, inspired of course by Rothko’s works. The book is only in Dutch but its illustrations speak for themselves.
Check the Gemeentemuseum’s website for the extra events during the several months that the exhibition will last. There is children’s workshops, apparently every Sunday but also a special Ladies night on 16 October where we will be welcomed with a drink. I am sure Rothko would be cool about that.