In the echoey halls of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the spectral artistry of Mark Rothko unfurls in a breathtaking retrospective, marking the first of its kind in France since 1999. Gathered from international institutions like the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Tate in London, and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., alongside important offerings from private collections, this exhibition weaves together 115 masterpieces in a riveting chronicle of Rothko’s unparalleled career.
The exhibition, meticulously curated across the Fondation’s spaces, embarks on a chronological odyssey, tracing Rothko’s evolution from his earliest figurative creations to the mesmerizing abstract works that define his legacy today. It is a testament to Rothko’s profound introspection, an intimate dialogue with colors and shapes that transcends conventional boundaries.
“I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the poignancy of music and poetry,” Rothko’s words echo, setting the tone for an exploration that resonates far beyond the canvas.
The journey commences with Rothko’s intimate portrayal of urban life, capturing the spirit of 1930s New York, including its iconic subway scenes. The exhibition deftly transitions into Rothko’s fascination with ancient myths and surrealism, mediums he employed to convey the tragic depths of the human condition, marred by the throes of war.
In 1946, Rothko ushered in a transformative era, embracing abstract expressionism. His “Multi-forms” phase marked a harmonious balance of chromatic masses, a precursor to the iconic works of the 1950s. Here, rectangular shapes meld and overlap, painted in a symphony of yellows, reds, ochres, blues, and whites. Rothko’s oeuvre became a canvas for the complexities of human emotion, inviting viewers into a realm where colors resonate with the soul.
A pivotal moment unfolds within the exhibition, highlighting Rothko’s commission for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, a series ultimately retained by the artist himself. Deep red hues take center stage, capturing the essence of Rothko’s emotional palette. This series finds a home within the rooms of the Tate Gallery, an ode to Rothko’s unparalleled artistry.
In the 1960s, Rothko embraced fresh challenges, including commissions like the Rothko Chapel in Houston, a testament to his enduring creativity. The exhibition culminates in the towering spaces of the Frank Gehry building, where Rothko’s unfinished works stand alongside Alberto Giacometti’s sculptural figures. It’s a tableau, reminiscent of Rothko’s vision for a UNESCO commission that fate denied.
Rothko’s work, with its mysterious layers and its refusal to be confined to mere color, finds new resonance within this exhibition. Fondation Louis Vuitton, with its meticulous curation, invites viewers on a transformative journey, where art transcends its physical form, becoming a conduit for unspoken emotions and silent conversations between the artist and the observer.
Photo: Rothko Fondation Louis Vuitton Nico Kos-Earle © Artlyst