Pace London’s inaugural show pairs a selection of Rothko’s late paintings with photographs of seascapes by contemporary Japanese artist, Hiroshi Sugimoto.

There is a striking albeit obviously formal and rather simplistic visual similarity between the work of these two artists and yet there is also a sense too in which these artists share an affinity beyond the visual, a sense of the melancholic, of the slow and yet inexorable passage of time. Of the ebb and flow and of life’s binaries, light and dark, sea and sky, life and death- to make such a comparison, however, seems to me to fundamentally misread and to underestimate Rothko’s largely dark and brooding works, the horizontal lines in which do not simply delineate what is visible and the surfaces of which far from slick digitalised perfection, appear scrubbed, visibly worked at, worked over, fretfully, determinedly, indefatigably.

Towards the end of his life, Rothko battled with ill health and a feeling of isolation, having separated from his wife on New Year’s Day of 1969, the year in which the selected ‘multiforms’ were painted. It was only just over a year later that Rothko committed suicide. There is a rawness and emotional, spiritual intensity about Rothko’s work that is not found in Sugimoto’s languid reflections on time and space, which while they are visually arresting and often transcendentally beautiful, are no match for Rothko. In the end then, I can’t help feeling that Pace’s pairing, although interesting and original, makes light of Rothko’s deeply felt, complex and highly nuanced work.

Rothko /Sugimoto: Dark Paintings and Seascapes, Pace London until Friday 16th November, 6 Burlington Gardens

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969, acrylic on canvas, 81 x 93” © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York

Nicola Baird