A blend of a whodunnit, art appreciation, and political analysis, Richard Warnica’s Hazlitt piece Rothko at the Inauguration traces the history and repercussions of one of New York’s biggest art scandals, its connection to Donald Trump’s inauguration, and the lasting impact of the battle over Rothko’s legacy.
As much as I appreciated the art scene intrigue, it’s Warnica’s own obsession with Rothko that really stuck with me. Describing the impact of those paintings is no easy task. Seeing a photo doesn’t do them justice; there’s an emotional power to them that only really comes with seeing them in person, a combination of their scale and some mysterious aspect of their technique. You can feel that struggle in the way Warnica talks about the paintings, a mix of straightforward description and pure emotion:
“There were purples and greens, blues, oranges, tans: all of them arranged in stacked blocks of colour with those tide pool edges—the spaces in-between where everything combines. I don’t know how long I sat there. I know I cried, although even now I’d have trouble breaking down the exact alchemy of why.”
“Rothko at the Inauguration” is about institutional rot and the corrupting influence of “easy” money, along with the way the financialization of fine art has played into those stories. Where some writers approach that subject with academic detachment, Warnica never forgets how art gained that power in the first place. Before it became just one more financial vehicle, a faceless asset in a tax-sheltered storage facility, it was a gateway to transcendence.