The Art: Orange, Red, Yellow
The Artist: Mark Rothko

About the Work:

Mark Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow set a record as the most expensive piece of post-war art sold at public auction when it was purchased by a private collector for $86.9 million USD.

Looking at the image above, you might think that there’s nothing to it. You’d be right. No matter the size and colour depth, viewing a picture of one of Rothko’s colour fields does not compare to the experience of beholding the piece in person.

In person, those who have seen it claim Orange, Red, Yellow is an ethereal experience. At nearly 2.5 metres tall, and 2m wide, the painting exploits a visual phenomenon known as simultaneous contrast to create a sense of vibrancy, and life.

Simultaneous contrast can be experienced not just in art, but anywhere colours – especially complementary colours – come together.

Look at the two grey inner rectangles below. Which is darkest?

The bottom one, right?

Actually, they are both the same colour, but the lighter outer box leads our brain to perceive it as darker.

Rothko’s work combines this effect with a professional understanding of composition that makes the painting appear to be glowing.

It’s a shame that we can’t experience Orange, Red, Yellow ourselves, but its highly publicised sale in 2012 served as a reminder that experiencing art up close is the only way to truly understand it.

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