Restoring Rothko | Tate

It’s time to bring you some news that’s come into us which is a man has been jailed for two years for defacing a painting by the artist Mark Rothko. This is the work of Mark Rothko. A fine example of his sombre, thoughtful, abstract art. It is an important group of works because it was the first time he made a sequence that he conceived of as a environment. At 3.25pm yesterday a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram Murals with black paint. It was the work seen here on the right that was targeted. A visitor used black paint and a small brush and scrawled over the corner of a mural by the artist Mark Rothko. They have a particular location at Tate which is incomparable. When the ink was applied to the bottom right corner of this one painting it not only destroyed one painting, it destroyed a whole group of paintings because this painting is one of a series of nine at Tate. The piece has now been removed from public view and taken to the gallery’s conservation department. Despite the damage experts say there’s still hope that it could be restored. It’s incredibly important to remove this ink because it destroys the integrity of the whole series. If you are trying to remove something that you don’t want from a work of art the key concept is solubility. So, one of the first things we did in the science lab is to find out what is in the ink in order to understand the solubility of the ink. We were able to then guide Rachel towards using solvents that we know would be useful. Because we didn’t know how Rothko made his work we had to make a representative sample which had a layer structure similar to the
painting. Scientists before me, as well as myself, have spent time looking at the different layers of Rothko’s paintings. He painted with a lot of thin layers and they merged into one big heterogeneous layer so they’re very difficult to sample and they’re very difficult to analyse. What we’re aiming to do is to create an approximation of the layer structure with the same materials that Rothko used, so that we can then do our own testing. We cut it up into sections and we put sections of it into our environmental accelerated ageing chambers. What we’re aiming to do is accelerate the ageing of the samples Rachel and I made so that the materials approximate the age of the painting a little better because the painting we’re dealing with is now 55 years old, around that and it’s just easier for us to test our cleaning strategies on an aged sample. Not only is it important that we try and produce a similar form of graffiti but that we use a similar amount of ink. What kind of level would it be appropriate to take it to how much ink are we going to be happy leaving. There’s just so many unknowns, it’s a really untried and untested process. How best to manipulate the solvent in order to remove the ink in a way that removes as much ink as possible but minimises any damage to the underlying paint film. And, I think part of that is about science but part of that is about hands on skills and the manipulation of materials and that’s very much a conservator’s realm rather than a scientist’s realm. Time’s up. Gel has taken up softened and swollen ink but it has not been terribly effective. My own reading of Rothko’s painting techniques is that he was primarily after an emotional response and that therefore, perhaps information that is intellectual such as material composition could be a distraction. But from my perspective I find delving deeply into the material as mystifying and as beautiful as standing two feet away from the painting. I do find that exploration of the detail fascinating and enlightening. So, here we are at the border between two layer of paint. This is 3D made at 500 time magnification so you can see very well the surface. What was the initial impact of this vandalism on you? Well, fortunately I’d seen some photos in advance so I had a sense of it. It’s almost like a physical attack I mean, I was shocked that someone would do that. It’s a part of the history of it and that you’ll have photo documentation. If it can be removed why on earth would you keep it? It’s irrelevant to the work of art and so it should go. So, I’ve been very keen to show you this Carol something very exciting, that we found in the warehouse in New York. Wow. It’s so surprising to see. Wow, see how methodical this is and Rothko thinking this through. For some reason I feel closer to his hand with this than I do with some of his painting. Started with a base layer, I guess, as an initial priming layer and then added colour. I think it’s just a result of what he’s done. He’s just trying to tone it down. But it’s also, I mean, it’s also a steady piece it doesn’t have any of the magic any allure of the final work. This is just about material. This isn’t about making a painting but in the end it’s going to be your interpretation of what you see on the surface. It’s exciting. It’s very, very slow but it’s worth it because the slower I go the more effective it is. You either leave ink and leave more of Rothko’s material intact or you go slightly deeper and you forfeit a little bit of Rothko’s pigment in order to get more ink out and, the ink that had gone through the canvas has that been removed as well or is that still there? No, that’ll still be there. So, you’ve just taken it off the surface. I want to give you both a big hug. It’s really amazing. Do you want to get that on camera? Doesn’t it look wonderful? I was so excited I looked at it and I thought hold on, I thought he wrote his whole name. We’re approaching the end of removing the ink from the black. We’re starting to look a lot more closely at options for cleaning the maroon paint. The maroon paint has at least one layer of paint less than the black and it also has no glazing layers on it and, as a result the maroon paint on this painting is more vulnerable to physical disruption it’s more vulnerable to solvents and it’s generally more porous. So, in that sense it was also more vulnerable to the ink that was applied to the surface during the incident. We’ve decided that it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to remove enough ink from the front of the painting. So, we’re embarking on another period of research using suction techniques trying to pull ink through the back and out of the canvas. I’m quite nervous about using suction techniques purely because up till now I’ve had absolute control over the application of solvent because I’ve been using my own hand and I’ve been able to apply the solvent with a very high level of precision. There is always the worry that as the solvent is dragged through the paint system and through the canvas that it might cause the ink to spread both at the front and at the back. After extensive testing with suction techniques on the test samples we decided not to take it forward on to the painting because of the amount of solvent we were using and the amount of pressure we were also exerting on the surface of the painting to get just very, very minimum results. What we’re going to do in the next couple of days is to rethink the solvent blend possibly work with something that’s a little faster evaporating so it doesn’t spend so much time in the paint film. Wow. Look at this. This has been cleaned and it looks exactly like the area like the original painting. Really, look at this. It’s impossible to tell. Oh my god, you’ve just made my day. We got a lot of penetration of the ink right into the paint and we tried lots of different solvent techniques which Bronwyn can expand on. I guess that’s a testament to the fact that you’re pretty confident that you know how to get this off at this point. it’s a great reference. It gives you an idea of just how far you’ve come. It’s funny because I was just revisiting aspects of my father, the big biography written about my father in the early ’90s and all these people were saying he was so secretive and he didn’t want to talk to anyone about his techniques. I’m also not convinced that he was so much secretive and trying to hide his special technique because he didn’t really want the focus on that he wanted people to experience the
paintings. But the back set of that is for people like me, and especially like you it makes everything much more complicated because he didn’t document. It was how he was working, he wanted you to deal with the end result. I mean, I have to say, that what’s unique about this project, for me is that I’ve had access 12 hours a day to a conservation scientist. You know, Tate allowed us to collaborate. and we’ve had the time, to really think and test systematically I mean, I saw this work about a month ago, it’s come on leaps even in that period It’s just extraordinary. So, this is the last bit a climactic occasion. Woohoo! Good job. It’s really nice to see all the letters removed. It was a great moment removing that last remnant of ink. But then I had to start considering the huge task of retouching the painting. It’s not going to sort it everywhere but in the more matte areas. And, if you can alter that combination of the actives as well, you could get it more glossy and less translucent It’s going to look really consistent Do a bigger area? What about this area? It could also be more fully integrated if you felt it was still too prominent. But I think it was a good balance and we’ll see if it still shows a little bit too white. No, I mean, I think under the conditions of gallery lighting it might be slightly different. I can’t see it. But I was very nervous about getting close to it but I’m pleased to say that the painting does look really good in the gallery space under the gallery lights. It was absolutely terrifying seeing the painting hung in the gallery and getting a sense of how the public would see the painting and, I’m hoping that they won’t be able to see it. I’m hoping it will be invisible in gallery lighting. One hopes that people will walk in, not notice and be returned to that miraculous feeling that Rothko aspired to in making the works in the first place.

100 thoughts on “Restoring Rothko | Tate

  1. Yeah I've had paint dry and look the same as his many layers. And the peaks and grooves are something you could have if you just used more paint or put paint on a wall that wasn't sanded.

  2. This was surprisingly emotional to me. To think that there are actually people who obsess over leaving their mark on something so intensely they'll literally damage or destroy it — make it so a thing can never return to what it once was — is immensely sad!

  3. In my opinion the only emotion the painting invokes on me is boredom, not a fan , still I have to applaud the restoration team for their work , that said 9 months for a small part of a painting – ladies you could create a baby in that time , all about perspective. If I have to study an artist and his vision and etc etc to understand his painting I think it's not a very effective way to communicate, lmo.

  4. in 5 minutes the restorers painted a canvas that didnt look too different than his work.

  5. I'm happy that the movie Velvet Buzzsaw came out. A total piss take on the pretentious bullshit of the modern art world as shown in this video. All this science wasted on art that is nothing more than wallpaper.

  6. Making a masterpiece is like being first to make something. It can be a painting or sculpture or piece of clothing or just anything new by form or technique or materials. Some pieces of art might be hugely better , they will be awesome or gorgeous or perfect but those never be a masterpiece. Someone thinks he/she can make it better … but they never be the first one who made it. It is so hard to see and transform a tiny bit of our life the way no one did it before. I am admiring the job of any artist . I love to learn why and what made all the artists famous for. Each one has his own secret , his own vision and courage to expose themselves for people’s critical eyes.

  7. God that was amazing and very thrilling. Thanks so much for this amazing video. 💕🦄🖌️🖌️🖌️🖌️🖌️🖌️🖌️

  8. No one would pay $5 at a flee market for a Rothko if he wasn't famous a pioneer yes as was Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon in the same fringe of artistic expression thus incredibly polarizing either love it or you feel it cringe worthy but in the end that is the reason and purpose of art to bring out human emotion that is the true genius and the power of modern masters .. .

  9. i feel like when some people can't work for a living they do 'art' as a living and can't hide how full of shit they are…

  10. If you don't get art, in general, or the Rothko series, specifically, just say so. The more you say, the dumber you sound.

  11. I am binge watching restoration videos and came across the comment that chided me for daring have a negative opinion about some types of art. I mean, how dare I opine on something that is purely subjective. If a cat farts on a shingle, I SHOULD APPRECIATE IT! Well, let me be the latest in a long line of detractors in the art world to say that the king has no clothes. Abstract started out as a way for talented artists to present an idea or emotion that enhances that idea or emotion. It ended up being a way for rich people to launder money. End. Of. Story.

  12. To be honest; the painting looked better with the ink on. Atleast something that`s creative…..

  13. I wish all this time, effort and especially money went into things that would benefit artists of the next generation and help create new platforms of creative freedom and whatnot instead of trying for 3 years to get black ink off of a black background in a painting that has 2 colors in total and will hang on a wall for the next 100 years in a random museum somewhere.

  14. On 7 October 2012 another work from the same series, also titled Black on Maroon, was defaced with writing in black paint.[3] The perpetrator told the BBC "I'm not a vandal" and compared himself with surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp, adding "Art allows us to take what someone's done and put a new message on it." It was later revealed that the man was Polish national Wlodzimierz Umaniec. His addition to the painting had included his name and the number 12, followed by the sentence: "a potential piece of yellowism".[4] The following day Umaniec was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.[5] During the trial, prosecutor Gregor McKinley said the repair would cost £200,000.[1]

    On 13 December 2012 Umaniec was jailed for two years at Inner London Crown Court, where Judge Roger Chapple told him that his actions had been, "entirely deliberate, planned and intentional". Talking about "yellowism" Judge Chapple added that it was "wholly and utterly unacceptable to promote it by damaging a work of art" which he called a "gift to the nation".[6] It was estimated that restoration of the painting might take up to 18 months to complete, with restorers having to source and apply the same range of materials employed by Rothko, which could include glue, synthetic resin and egg. The BBC's Arts Editor Will Gompertz explained that the ink from Umaniec's marker pen had bled all the way through the canvas, causing "a deep wound not a superficial graze" and that the vandal had caused "significant damage".[7] In order to work out how best to restore the painting conservators created a replica of the damaged work and tested various solvents.[1] In May 2014 the restored painting was returned to public display[1] and Umaniec offered a public apology, saying: "I apologise to [the] British people for what I did. I suppose I wanted to change the art world but of course I did it in a very, very wrong way. I spent almost a year and a half in prison and the British people have paid huge restoration costs, so it definitely wasn't worth doing it, and I'm sure the restoration team has done a wonderful job and I encourage everyone to see the restored picture."[8]

  15. The dimwit loser that vandalized this painting deserved even more time in jail IMO. He really thought he was doing something and being edgy

  16. And how did this affair impact security policies and strategies after?

  17. the asshole who did this deserves 10-20 years….and chop an arm off as well………

  18. I’m so glad Tate allowed the filming of the whole procedure. Rachel Barker’s dedication and skills are astounding. Fantastic work.

  19. Beautiful work and effort. This makes me happy to know that human beings are capable of this kind of story.

  20. Vandal – ‘HA! I don’t like this artwork; I’m going to destroy it with permanent ink! What are you gonna do about it?!’

    Conservator – ‘Hold my turpentine…’

  21. What pretentious psycho babble!
    A weed by any other name is still a weed!
    Crap is still crap, no matter how you try to intellectualize it!

  22. Elitist snobs still trying to sell the public on the Emporer's new clothes!

  23. i wonder whether there's a light or sound wave that would break up the ink layer and not the paint, versus a liquid solvent…

  24. For some reason people have decided art doesn’t have to look incredible or require skill to make anymore but can be great art if someone has some puts some bullshit about it’s meaning behind it n then the band wagon of dumb student snowflakes jump on thinkin there niche if they say they understand it and it’s great art

  25. Watching this vid made me feel sad it's desecration of something sacred

  26. Yes I know art should be appreciated but who decides that random stripes painted on a canvas become worth millions of dollars?

  27. I absolutely love Rothko and understand that it's not about this individual piece, rather the collection of the nine pieces that make the art work. Still I think the graffiti looked cool and should've been left there, despite (possibly) removing the overwhelming effect of the collection of art pieces.

  28. Hey! At least those restoration artists got some job to do. One cannot diminish the value of employment.

  29. modern "art" reminds me about the story of the emperor's clothes. Everybody pretends to see the beautiful fabric and design until a child from the crowd shouts that the emperor is naked. With modern art everybody pretends they have some sort of elevated understanding and use big words and make up nonsensical gibberish to prop up the work…which in essence is basically rubbish. There is absolutely no comparison between Leonardo and Rothko. The joke is on all those billionaires who pay ridiculous amounts of money for three lines of paint over a canvas. Its not a commentary on the artists struggle to find meaning, its three lines of paint on a canvas you fools.

  30. I would digitally scan the painting, use the photoshop's stamp tool, send jpeg to an online printer that prints on canvas, then … done.

  31. Restoring a Rothco made easy.
    1. Phone your local handyman
    2. Buy him a paint roller and some oil paint
    3. Tell him to treat the canvas as he would treat a wall as if a volcano was about to erupt near him but the mob is holding a gun to his head and telling him to paint.

  32. I remember doing a master copy for my oil painting class during college and it’s so difficult, I believe doing this is even worse because you are working on top of the original trying to replicate it

  33. Dulux do a nice maroon paint that would have taken a lot less to do.

  34. Hello Carol,
    I frequently think of working with you, designing the lab tables and enjoying the magic atmosphere of the early days of the Menil .

  35. Restorers and conservators of this caliber are awe inspiring and heroic in their own way.

  36. What an amazing team, not one person mentioned monitory value and all they were concerned about was the piece(s) as a work of art. Bronwyn and especially Rachel (my apologies ladies I forgot your surnames) invested so much of themselves in getting it right. I know the person who damaged it was probably mentally unwell, but they must recompense in some way.

  37. I posted a condemnation of all vandalism but it wasn't posted. So here it is.

  38. I would think it would be difficult to tell if an abstract painting had been defaced…

  39. I think of Rothko followers as someone who is easily persuaded and might be a flat earth theorist. Someone tells them it's great so they are all in. They can never explain what makes this a wonderful work of art worth millions.

    Don't get me wrong. I would not want someone to deface his work. The same way I would want a child's painting to be harmed.

  40. This has got to be the worst quality restoration video I have ever had the misfortune to watch.

  41. מר רוטקו מהמם נותן הרגשת שלווה מוכיח שגם במינמליזם יש עולם ומלואו.עבודה יפה ומענינת הרסטורציה

  42. I loved the story telling, it felt like they were solving the biggest problem in the world

  43. An interesting video. Seems like there was a lot of over-hyping of the entire process, the damage and all that entails. Maybe a show for a little bit more job security or praise and adulation when the job was done?

  44. 2 years in jail for a Mark Rothko "painting"?? lmao! I know it's not right to deface but the guy shouldn't have gone to jail! it's easy to do. I wouldn't be able to do Da Vinci's art but Rothko? many people can do that

  45. It seems that Mark Rothko's artistic vision led him to use the interplay between matte and more glossy surfaces to convey, in part, that vision. This prevented his protecting his works with a final varnish. Had the piece been varnished, removing the ink would have been a trivial procedure. Rothko, who experimented endlessly with materials, must have realized that his works were specially vulnerable. Then the odd question arises: is this vulnerability one aspect of Rothko's artistic vision, that is, did he mean it to be vulnerable to vandalism? Were he alive, would he necessarily want the vandal's "work" effaced?
    The reflexive answer is "Of course he would want the damage reversed, so that his original vision wold again be presented unimpaired." But if he wanted his vision to be permanent, would he not have experimented with materials and techniques to ensure permanency? It seems heresy to ask it, but is it possible that Mark Rothko foresaw and accepted the relatively early demise of his works?

  46. Hahaha I did a better artistic expression this morning after coffee 🙂 What utter BS the art world is.

  47. Hey, Tate gallery I painted a wall with magnolia emulsion the other day, can I have a million pounds please? No ten million please? No, 100 million please:) You can put one of those little plaques next to it explaining the human condition and the dichotomy of subjective realism or some such BS 🙂 hahahahahahaha what a crock of ……..

  48. Love it when toffeey nosed experts have to explain a piece of art to us lower class mortals. Awful paintings just throw them in the washing machine hope for the best.😂😂😂

  49. My goal as an artist would be to have an artist like that restore your art, I think Rothko would have loved that.

  50. Defiling a work of art because you don't agree with it's style corresponds, in my opinion, to going at war with a country because of their religion and beliefs. It's rudimental, childish and does not do anything but create disruption.
    You can write about it, talk about it, try and list all the reasons why you think what you think however your personal opinion does not in any way shape or form give you the right to go and deminish someone else's? So many terrible people with a god complex nowadays, everyone thinks they have the world figured out, that they know exactly what's good for everyone while, in fact, they so don't.

  51. So what you're saying is anyone can make this bullshit and call it a multimillion dollar masterpiece. LOL

  52. This is hilarious nonsense and ridiculousness. ROTHKO GTFOH.
    WTF is 2colors squared on a canvass.. Is this a perpetuative glorified joke.
    Same with Twombly or pollock..I'll leave Basquiat out of it.

  53. Murder asks “what are you in for?” and you have to answer, “art vandalism” …Then you get your ass kicked…., shortly after they stop laughing.

  54. I am someone who enjoys abstract art, but I never understood Rothko’s work until I saw one of his paintings ‘in person,” as it were. The pieces have to be experienced first hand. My deepest appreciation and thanks to these remarkable women for their skill and tenacity.

  55. This so amazing to watch the process, painstaking, but amazing. I love Rothko works, that feeling of being consumed is incredible.

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