By Charlie O'Malley
While Red primarily explores the life and work of Mark Rothko, it also briefly mentions two of Rothko's celebrated contemporaries—Mies van der Rohe and Jackson Pollock, two artists whose work is featured prominently throughout Chicago. Today, we take a tour through the city to find local relics of these artistic luminaries.
Red, John Logan’s Tony-winning play which is currently playing in the Albert Theatre, explores the work of three major twentieth-century artists: Mies van der Rohe, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, all pioneers in their fields. In a city with a cultural heritage as rich as Chicago’s, it is no surprise that these artists are well-represented locally.
Mies van der Rohe was a German architect who pioneered modern design. After working extensively in Europe with fellow architectural masters Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus School) and Le Corbusier, Mies left Germany for Chicago in the 1930s, accepting a job at the Illinois Institute of Technology, influencing what would eventually be known as the Second Chicago School of architecture. His most renowned early work in the US was the Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, which he followed with 860-880 Lakeshore Drive (below left; 1949 – 1951), a set of apartment buildings which represented a departure from the brick U-shaped structures popular at the time. In 1954, he received a commission to design the Seagram Building in New York, which features prominently in Red. Truly a masterpiece of modernist architecture, the Seagram Building revolutionized the use of steel, glass and concrete for functional as well as decorative purposes. One of Mies’s final works was 330 North Wabash (sometimes known as the IBM Building; below right), a skyscraper within a stone’s throw of the Goodman, which was completed in 1970, a year after his death.
Jackson Pollock, who serves as a great (yet unseen) force in Red, worked as a contemporary of Rothko. As the Dionysian counterpart to Rothko’s Apollonian force (according to one character in Red, at least) Pollock is an immense power in the play. Fortunately he is not unseen for Chicagoans, as one of his greatest paintings, Greyed Rainbow (below; 1953), is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago (Gallery 289B). Greyed Rainbow is one of Pollock’s largest (and last) paintings, with an assortment of blacks, whites, grays and silvers masking brighter colors (green, blue, orange), as if hiding them from the viewer.
And if Red makes you urgently want to see one of Rothko’s works in person, fear not, because the Art Institute also has two of Rothko’s finest works on display in Gallery 289C, alongside works by Richard Diebenkorn and Morris Louis. Untitled (Purple, White, and Red) (below; 1953), is unabashedly emotional and characteristic of his mature works. Three rectangles of color float, one above another, edges blurred and borders falling away. In Untitled (Painting) (1953 – 1954), varying shades of orange and yellow simmer and pop, challenging notions of light and contrast. For those outside of the Loop, a later Rothko work, No. 2 (1962), is on view in the Elisabeth and William M. Landes Gallery for Modern Art and Design at the Smart Museum of Art at The University of Chicago.