The MFA has mounted a pleasurable if not groundbreaking Rothko show, dominated by the middle-period multiforms and the mature color-field works. They are on loan from the National Gallery of Art, and thus a welcome opportunity for us New Englanders to spend some time with the D.C. Rothkos.
"Reflection" has a curious inclusion, a diminutive and bonkers self-portrait from 1938. The artist looks in on a surrealist interior with an undersized woman and an even more undersized easel. He was trying, and failing, to be de Chirico. Its pairing with the MFA's presumed self-portrait of Rembrandt doesn't flatter Rothko.
But the mature works seem all the more mature for it. The multiforms are striking, especially No. 9 from 1948, in which radiant puzzle pieces assemble into a sultry composition of orange and vermilion. This segues naturally to one of the first color-fields from '49, a work made prior to the artist's growing monomania about red and black and thus retaining some joy.