Things from England

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I’m back in New York after a week of checking up on London. From time to time over the next few weeks I’ll be emptying my notebooks into the magazine and also here on line.

For starters, it’s no secret that Tate Modern can’t mount a complete narrative of modern art in its galleries. It has too many gaps in its permanent collection. But it makes a virtue of necessity with changing temporary galleries, some that juxtapose work from different periods in a way that ordinary chronological display doesn’t permit. Right now there’s one spectacular example of that kind of hanging at the Tate, a room that brings together one of Monet’s Water Lilies, a version on long term loan from the National Gallery….

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Water Lilies, Claude Monet, after 1916/NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON

…..with three Abstract Expressionist canvases that owed a debt to the Water Lilies series. One of those is a Rothko from 1952 that not only harks back to the earlier painting’s shimmering “all over” fogs of color but does it in a palette of pale green, yellow, lavender and violet that’s a near match with Monet’s.

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Untitled, Mark Rothko, 1952 /TATE MODERN

Going back and forth between the two canvases, you could understand in an almost physical way how Rothko’s picture operates, how its vertical orientation and near human-scale dimensions, its direct address to your eye, brain and body, condenses the visual field of Monet’s horizontal image and untethers it from its last connections to the visible world. It’s been a commonplace of art history for more than half a century that Monet’s numerous Water Lilies were a precursor of AbEx. But how often do you get to see any of them juxtaposed with the pictures — the other two in this gallery are Jackson Pollock’s Summertime: Number 9A and Joan Mitchell’s Number 12 — they gave rise to?

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