Saturday, March 09, 2024

Mark Rothko (exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton, 2024)

Rétrospective de Mark Rothko à la Fondation Louis Vuitton, 18 Oct 2023 - 2 April 2024. The official poster featuring Mark Rothko: No. 14 (US 1960). Huile sur toile, 290,8 x 268,3 cm. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CR 679).

Catalogue: Suzanne Pagé & Christopher Rothko: Mark Rothko. Paris: Citadelles & Mazenod / Fondation Louis Vuitton, 2023. ISBN 978 2 85088 929 5. 316 pp. Hard cover. 29 x 31. Two language editions: French and English. Featuring the 115 works from institutional and private collections in the exhibition. The cover image (partly covered by a loose paper folder): Mark Rothko: No. 14 (US 1960). Huile sur toile, 290,8 x 268,3 cm. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CR 679).

Fondation Louis Vuitton, 8 Av. du Mahatma Gandhi, 75116 Paris, Jardin d'acclimatisation de Paris, Bois de Boulogne. Architecte: Frank Gehry. Ouverture: octobre 2014. Propriétaire: LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.


" The Fondation Louis Vuitton presents the first retrospective in France dedicated to Mark Rothko (1903-1970) since the exhibition held at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1999. The retrospective brings together some 115 works from the largest international institutional collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Tate in London and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., and from international private collections, including the artist's family collection.

Displayed chronologically across all of the Fondation’s spaces, the exhibition traces the artist’s entire career: from his earliest figurative paintings to the abstract works that he is most known for today. "

“I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry.”

Mark Rothko

" The exhibition opens with intimate scenes and urban landscapes – such as visions of the New York subway – that dominate Rothko’s output in the 1930s, before his transition to a repertoire inspired by ancient myths and surrealism which Rothko uses to express the tragic dimension of the human condition during the War.

From 1946, Rothko makes an important shift towards abstract expressionism. The first phase of this switch is that of Multi-forms, where chromatic masses are suspended in a kind of equilibrium on the canvas. Gradually, these decrease in number, and the spatial organization of his painting evolves rapidly towards Rothko’s “classic” works of the 1950s, where rectangular shapes overlap according to a binary or ternary rhythm, characterized by shades of yellow, red, ochre, orange, but also blue, white… 

In 1958, Rothko is commissioned to produce a set of wall paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant designed by Philip Johnson for the Seagram Building in New York – the construction of which is overseen by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Rothko later decides not to deliver the paintings and keeps the entire series. Eleven years later, in 1969, the artist donates nine of these paintings – which differ from the previous ones on account of their deep red hues – to the Tate Gallery, which dedicates a room in its collections exclusively to Rothko. this series is exceptionally presented in the Fondation exhibition.

In 1960, the Phillips Collection dedicates a permanent room – the first “Rothko Room” – to the artist. The room is designed in close collaboration with him and is also featured in the exhibition. In 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organizes the first major retrospective, an exhibition that subsequently travels to several European cities (London, Basel, Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome, and Paris). In the 1960s, Rothko accepts other new commissions, most notably the chapel John and Dominique de Menil in Houston, which is inaugurated in 1971 and named the Rothko Chapel. 

While Rothko favors darker tones and muted contrasts since the late 1950s, the artist never completely abandons his palette of bright colors, as evidenced by several paintings from 1967 and by the last red painting left unfinished in his studio. Even in the case of the 1969-1970 Black and Grey series, a simplistic interpretation of the work, associating grey and black with depression and suicide, is best avoided.

These works are displayed in the tallest room in the Frank Gehry building, alongside Alberto Giacometti’s large-scale sculptural figures, creating an environment that is close to what Rothko had in mind for a UNESCO commission that was never realized.

The permanence of Rothko’s questioning, his desire for wordless dialogue with the viewer, and his refusal to be seen as a “colorist” are all elements allowing a new interpretation of his multifaceted work in this exhibition. "

Suzanne Pagé and Christopher Rothko 
with François Michaud
and Ludovic Delalande, Claudia Buizza, Magdalena Gemra, Cordélia de Brosses.


AA: This is my first visit to a Mark Rothko monograph exhibition. I saw the collective Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2016 and there for the first time experienced the overwhelming presence of Rothko's magnificent paintings live, so different from examining illustrations.

This is also my first visit to Fondation Louis Vuitton. The Frank Gehry architecture is great art in itself, the Le Frank provides excellent gastronomy, and the book store is well stocked. Located at the lovely Bois de Boulogne, easily accessible by metro line number 1.

Thinking about great artists after WWII, this experience confirms my feeling that Mark Rothko is my favourite, particularly his periods since the year 1950.

Seemingly about nothing, they are about everything, Simple yet unfathomable. The full richness of the painting is revealed only in a live encounter. A colour, in illustrations seemingly pure, is revealed in real contact in dozens, maybe hundreds of shades, gradings and variations.

I congratulate the museum for the hanging that is also art in itself. The paintings hang slightly lower than normally. The lighting is subtle, almost dim, but just right. There is no glass. We see and almost feel the naked skin of the oil paint.

The year 1950 is the turning-point. There is a new glow, a new radiation, like a light from beyond. Lux aeterna. Transcendence. The paintings are all about transcendence.

The light shines through all the colours. When Rothko turns to grey, dark, almost black and full black paintings, the light is still there.

The nothingness, the emptiness, the void has many meanings. There is the legacy of Kasimir Malevich's The Black Square, the zero point of painting.

There is no explanation, or there are many. Death, including spiritual death, is one of them. 

I am thinking about the Biblical image ban. Thou shalt not make an image. Abstract Expressionism obeys the image ban, because there is no representation, the art is not figurative.

I am thinking about what happened in the 1940s and what happened to art. If there is poetry after Auschwitz and Hiroshima, it can look like this.

Outside the numbered galleries there is one more, the last stage, about the Rothko Chapel, conveyed by a miniature and other representations. Having prepared everything for the Chapel, Rothko took his own life in 1970.

Seen today, Mark Rothko appears as a counterforce to the deluge of images.


1  Urban scenes, subways, and portraits
Mythology and Neo-Surrealism

2  Multiforms and early "classic" paintings

3  Open space

4  The 1950s

5  Seagram murals

6  Blackforms

7  The Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection

8  Open space

9  The 1960s

10  Black and Gray, Giacometti

11  And Still, Color

HORS NUMÉROS  Maquette of the Rothko Chapel

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