The Fondation Louis Vuitton is presenting the first retrospective in France since the late 1990s dedicated to Russian-born and naturalized American artist Mark Rothko. Opening on October 18, the exhibition brings together 115 works that retrace the artist’s entire career, from his early figurative paintings to the abstract works for which he is best known today.
“I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry.” Mark Rothko’s words reflect the way his work expresses the human condition, intense and fundamental human emotions that render his paintings timeless and more relevant than ever today. Articulating his own new language, his creations evoke a radiance that springs from the interior, rather than the light of the world. Rothko’s vision was to communicate basic human emotions through abstract art.
After graduating from the prestigious Yale University, he met American artist Milton Avery and began to paint human figures in a New York City wracked by social conflict in the wake of the 1929 financial crisis. Dissatisfied with this output, he shifted to abstract painting.
The exhibition follows the chronology of Mark Rothko’s life, opening with intimate scenes and urban landscapes from the 1930s before his transition to expressions of the tragic dimension of the human condition during the Second World War, inspired by ancient myths and surrealism.
The retrospective then explores his post-war Multi-form works, followed by his “classic” paintings, where rectangular shapes overlap according to a binary or ternary rhythm, characterized by shades of yellow, red, ochre, orange, along with blue and white. Also featured are several exceptional works in Rothko’s career, notably the series of paintings he donated to the Tate Gallery in 1969, differing in their deep red hues.
His work from the 1960s is represented in paintings from the first “Rothko Room” in the Philips Collection, as well as works from the first major retrospective, an exhibition hosted by prestigious modern art museums around the world, including MoMA in New York.
The exhibition thus presents the evolution and tension of Rothko’s creative quest, both in his choice of colors and the construction of paintings that make his oeuvre so diversified. His permanent questioning and desire for wordless dialogue with the viewer – coupled with a refusal to be seen as a “colorist” – invite a fresh interpretation of his multifaceted work thanks to this retrospective.