John Logan, author of the hit play “Red,” gets pop art and minimalism all wrong. Those may seem like small details given the phenomenal success of his London and Broadway hit, which won six Tony Awards in 2010, including best play. The drama centers on a critical period in abstract painter Mark Rothko’s career when he was creating a set of high-profile murals for the new Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City. It isn’t directly concerned with either pop art or minimalism, movements that helped organize the art world as a younger generation of artists succeeded Rothko and his peers in the late 1950s and ’60s. But in mischaracterizing what came after Rothko, Logan gets Rothko wrong, too. And much more.
The plot tunes into the years 1958-59, when Rothko, a Jewish emigre from Vitebsk, was struggling to complete a series of paintings designed to hang in a glamorous restaurant in the new Seagram Building, an enormously influential icon of the International modernist style. It is a trophy commission, paying $35,000, a princely sum in those days and an indication of how high Rothko’s star had risen in the New York art firmament.