Mark Rothko, famous American painter, will be the subject of an exhibition retracing his entire career at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

The first retrospective since 1999

The first retrospective in France devoted to the American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970) since that of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1999, the exhibition presented at the Foundation brings together some 115 works from the largest institutional collections, notably from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Tate in London and the Phillips Collection in Washington, and international private collections including that of the artist’s family. Spread across all of the Foundation’s spaces, following a chronological route, it retraces the artist’s entire career from his first figurative paintings to the abstraction that defines his work today.

Rectangular shapes

The exhibition opens with intimate scenes and urban landscapes – such as the New York subway scenes – which dominated the 1930s, before giving way to a repertoire inspired by ancient myths and surrealism through which The tragic dimension of the human condition is expressed during war. From 1946, Rothko made a decisive turn towards abstraction, the first phase of which was that of the Multiforms, where suspended chromatic masses tend to balance each other. Gradually, their number diminishes and the spatial organization of his painting evolves rapidly towards his so-called “classic” works of the 1950s where rectangular shapes are superimposed following a binary or ternary rhythm, characterized by tones of yellow, red, ocher, orange, but also blue, white…

The artist donated nine of these paintings to the Tate Gallery

In 1958, Rothko received the commission for a set of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant designed by Philip Johnson for the Seagram Building – whose construction Ludwig Mies van der Rohe directed in New York. Rothko ultimately gave up on delivering the order and kept the entire series. Eleven years later, in 1969, the artist donated nine of these paintings to the Tate Gallery, which were distinguished from the previous ones by their deep red hues, constituting a room exclusively dedicated to his work within the collections. This set is exceptionally presented in the exhibition. In 1960, the Phillips Collection dedicated a permanent room to the painter, the first “Rothko Room”, closely designed with him, which is also presented here. The following year, MoMA will organize the first retrospective of his work which will travel to several European cities (London, Basel, Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome, Paris). During the 1960s, he responded to new commissions, the main of which was the chapel desired by John and Dominique de Menil in Houston, inaugurated in 1971 under the name Rothko Chapel. If since the end of the 1950s, Rothko has favored darker tones and muted contrasts, the artist has never completely abandoned his palette of bright colors, as evidenced by several paintings from 1967 and the very last red painting which remained unfinished. in his workshop. Even the Black and Gray series of 1969-1970 cannot lead to a simplistic interpretation of the work associating gray and black with depression and suicide. These works are brought together in the highest room of Frank Gehry’s building alongside the great figures of Alberto Giacometti, creating an environment close to what Rothko had imagined to respond to a commission from UNESCO that had no follow-up. The permanence of Rothko’s questioning, his desire for a wordless dialogue with the viewer, his refusal to be seen as a “colorist”, allow through this exhibition a renewed reading of his work – in its true plurality.

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