Saltz: One of the things I love about art is the way it can sometimes step outside of time. Rothko’s tremendous radiating Buddhist TVs do that. They’re like burning bushes—pulsating but not consuming themselves. But by 1959, he thought he was being sucked into the success machine of a new American culture industry. He dreaded peers calling him a “sellout.” But his demons weren’t just inside. Even fans were rough on him. Critic Harold Rosenberg famously referred to Rothko’s type of painting as “apocalyptic wallpaper.” Greenberg wrongly charged that “after ’55 [Rothko] lost his stuff.” One of the best things about Red is how happy it makes you that the art world is no longer about warring tribes of macho men trying to kill one another.
Zacharek: Red’s power is in sympathizing with Rothko without condescending to him. And in the end, it’s moving. It sends you home feeling that you’ve seen something, that you know how much it cost Rothko to be Rothko.
Saltz: In 1962, after his dealer Sidney Janis mounted a show of Pop artists, including Warhol and Lichtenstein, Rothko, along with Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell, quit the gallery. He committed suicide in early 1970. I love that Red shows you how hard art is. It encourages you to respect the sight of an artist, even a “windbag-y” one, pushing himself to psychic, creative limits to invent something new. It shattered my art-world bullshit detector.