Transcendence and Cold War

Mark Rothko, No. 210/No. 211 (Orange)

Mark Rothko, No. 210/No. 211 (Orange), 1960, oil on canvas, 175.3 x 160 cm (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art). Speakers: Dr. Margi Conrads and Dr. Steven Zucker

Key points:

  • No. 210/No. 211 (Orange) is an Abstract Expressionist painting that uses color relationships to evoke a general spiritual feeling. Rothko painted the orange in areas of varying density and transparency over the purple so that the relationship between the colors is explored in many variations.
  • The painting is meant to elicit deep human emotion. Rothko was concerned throughout his career with the relationship between art and the spiritual, and how to evoke a spiritual response with a modernist visual vocabulary.
  • 1960 was poised between the post-World War II era that confronted questions about humanity’s brutality and the dawning era of the Civil Rights movement; it is possible the color choices are meant to reflect that.

Go deeper

This work at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Mark Rothko at the National Gallery, Washington DC

PBS’s American Masters series episode on Mark Rothko

More to think about

Mark Rothko used relationships between colors and simple geometric shapes to create paintings meant to feel spiritual but not be attached to any specific religion. How does Rothko’s work compare with James Turrell’s Skyspace: The Way of Color?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.