A group of students was standing in front of the Mark Rothko painting taking notes as the museum guide talked about the artist’s life and his inspirations. I would have walked past the crowd had the curator not suddenly dropped one phrase, “As we all know, minimalism in art was invented in the West.” I was admiring Rothko’s use of vermilion red, an intense hue that made me think of Indian kumkum (the crimson powder Hindu women use to draw a mark on their foreheads) and Russian lacquers, when the West claimed Minimalism.
Leaving aside the absurdity of referring to Rothko as a “minimalist”–a label he would have rejected outright, it’s senseless to separate artistic achievements by arbitrary parameters. To see why, one should leave the halls devoted to 20th century art and walk through, say, the expositions usually housed in the Eastern wings. If the museum in question is the Met in New York, then the Department of Islamic Art is where I would take you.