More Factcheck! Same Plangent!…Less Purple!

Mike Kelley, More Tragic! More Plangent!…More Purple!, 1985 (Printed 1996), Ektacolor on museum board, each 30×24 in., illustrated is ed.1/5, sold at Sotheby’s in 2022

OK, since no one else had done it, I decided to figure out the Mark Rothko catalogue Mike Kelley photographed for his 1985 edition, More Tragic! More Plangent!…More Purple! which he printed in 1996 and published with Patrick Painter Editions.

If he’d actually taken all the photos in 1985, his options for catalogues with a decent number of full-page, full-color reproductions of Rothko’s paintings were very limited.

The first and biggest candidate was Mark Rothko, 1903-1970: A Retrospective, Diane Waldman’s catalogue for the 1978 show at the Guggenheim, which has been republished several times. No. Only one of the six Kelley works—a 1953 painting on canvas— was included. There was another possibility, thinner but timely: a catalogue for a 1983 show at Pace titled, Mark Rothko Paintings 1948-1969. I couldn’t find a copy nearby.

Fortunately, the only Rothko book the curators of the current Rothko Paintings on Paper show left in the National Gallery’s library was a spare copy of the catalogue from the National Gallery’s first show of Rothko Works on Paper, in 1984. That catalogue, assembled by then-Rothko Foundation curator Bonnie Clearwater, with an essay by Dore Ashton, was republished in 2008.

I found all six Rothkos Mike Kelley used in More Tragic! &c., and identified and collaged them with no purple below, to match the Sotheby’s hang above:

Mike Kelley’s Mark Rothkos, clockwise from left: upside down, regular, wrong, upside down, mirror flipped, regular. Only the pink one (top center), from 1953, is not on paper from 1967-9

Aannd I got one wrong, but it’s wild how close it is, even in the edges. It’s partly because Kelley turned several upside down, and flipped at least one over. Anyway, until I get the last one right, here are the five confirmed works, with their date, Rothko Foundation inventory and Clearwater plate number, clockwise from the top left:
33. Untitled, 1968, acrylic on paper on masonite, 34 3/8 x 27 1/4 in., (1185.68)
Untitled, 1953, oil on canvas, 76 3/4 x 67 3/4 in., (5028.53) [NGA, iconic]
eh, I was close. brb.
79. Untitled, 1969, acrylic on paper, 50 x 42 in., (2037.69) [NGA]
28. Untitled, 1967, acrylic on paper on masonite, 24 x 18 3/4 in., (1255.67)
42. Untitled, 1968, acrylic on paper on masonite, 24 x 18 in., (1295.68)

Anyhow, it’s a very strange way to look at Rothkos, by typology and visible brushstrokes instead of by color.