Paris recently became the epicenter of the art world with the inauguration of an expansive showcase featuring 115 masterpieces by the legendary Mark Rothko. Housed within the architectural marvel of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, this exhibition traces Rothko’s transformative journey as an artist, from his initial traditional figurative depictions to the signature vast color rectangles that have immortalized him in the annals of 20th-century art.
Christopher Rothko, the luminary’s son, who played a pivotal role in curating this exhibition, eloquently expressed the philosophy that drove his father’s artistic endeavors. Rothko aspired to elevate the realm of painting, placing it on the same pedestal as the transcendent realms of music and poetry. Christopher fondly reminisced about their shared moments, “Even though he left us when I was merely six, music was a thread that intertwined our conversations.” He recalled the evocative instances when Rothko, with misty eyes, would talk about Mozart, a sentiment Christopher believes resonates deeply with the emotive power of Rothko’s paintings.
Born Marcus Rothkovitch in 1903, Rothko’s early life was cradled in the historical city of Daugavpils, then known as Dvinsk, in what is now Latvia. A decade later, the winds of change ushered the Rothkovitch family to the vast expanse of the United States, seeking brighter horizons.
Rothko’s artistic awakening materialized relatively later in his life, during the tumultuous 1930s. Even in these nascent phases, his canvas seemed to be gripped by an enveloping darkness, portraying figures that echoed solitude and profound melancholy. However, the realm of figurative art proved to be a challenging domain for him. As Suzanne Page, the co-curator of the exhibition, astutely noted, Rothko felt a dissonance with figurative art, feeling it was akin to “mutilation”. By the ensuing decade, his brushes began to dance to the tunes of surrealism. The late 1940s heralded a pivotal shift with the emergence of “Multiforms”, abstract formations that seemed reminiscent of vivid ink blots. Hidden within these were the embryonic traces of the iconic rectangles that would soon dominate his oeuvre.
Rothko’s signature style, characterized by expansive, evocative rectangles radiating myriad hues, crystallized in the 1950s. This became the defining motif of his creations until his demise in 1970. The Louis Vuitton Foundation, renowned for hosting monumental exhibitions, including those featuring maestros like Jean-Paul Basquiat and Andy Warhol, is now adorned with seventy such iconic Rothko pieces.
The spectrum of Rothko’s moods finds expression in this showcase. From the visceral “Seagram Murals” awash in intense maroons and reds to the contemplative “Blackforms” and the unexpected vibrancy following a health scare, the exhibition is a journey through his emotional landscape.
Rothko’s life was a mosaic of contrasts. While his works radiate an ethereal glow, his personal life was marked by challenges, including battles with alcoholism and a tumultuous marriage. At the age of 66, the world lost this genius to a tragic suicide. Yet, as Page poignantly stated, Rothko’s canvases are a testament to the profound depths of human emotions – be it ecstasy, despair, or the dance of death. The true magic unfolds for those who dare to immerse themselves, allowing ample time to traverse the depths of his creations.