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Mark Rothko

The Realist Years

About Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko (b. 1903, Dvinsk, Russia; d. 1970, New York) is widely considered one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. A pioneer of the New York School, he is predominantly recognized for his mesmerizing Color-field paintings of immense scale produced between 1949 and 1970, which followed his works of figurative and biomorphic imagery. His approach to painting emphasized an experimental engagement with process in order to fully articulate a universal expression.

The enduring legacy of his artistic achievement has been recognized through major surveys and retrospectives presented at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2015); the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1998), traveling to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Kawamura Memorial Art Museum, Japan, traveling to three museums in Japan (1995); and Tate Gallery, London, traveling to Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1987). In 1979, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, presented 1930–1970: A Retrospective, which traveled to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1979). Paintings 1945–1960 was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1961, with additional venues in London, Amsterdam, Basel, Rome and Paris.

Press Release

  • Mark Rothko: The Realist Years
    Approximately forty of Mark Rothko’s rarely exhibited Depression-era urban scenes, still lifes and nudes from the 1930s and 1940s will be on view at PaceWildenstein (32 East 57th Street in New York City) from October 31, 2001 through January 5, 2002. Selected from the artist’s estate and public as well as private collections, this exhibition provides the first occasion to view Rothko’s contribution to early American modernism as a precursor to his unprecedented transition into abstraction. Mark Rothko: The Realist Years represents the last critical installment in a series of seven exhibitions organized by PaceWildenstein over 23 years that has unfolded every facet of Rothko’s career. A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by the noted art historian Klaus Kertess accompanies the exhibition. Rothko’s largely unseen work from the 1930s and early 1940s reveals both sensitivity to his contemporary social conditions and acknowledges the developmental role of his mentor, artist Milton Avery. Informed by the tradition of American Realism and painters such as Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh and Ben Shahn, Rothko’s urban-inspired tableaus convey a sense of isolationism distinctive among his contemporaries. Though impacted stylistically by Renaissance masters and modernists including Cezanne, de Chirico, Ernst, Marin and Munch, it was Avery who ultimately exerted the greatest influence upon his work at the time. Avery inspired Rothko to simplify color and form, an example that Rothko elaborated upon by adding the expressive weight of color itself. Situating Rothko’s work of this period in relation to his later work—the luminous floating blocks of painted colors for which he is best known—Kertess remarks: “The work he created in the 1930s is filled with an intensity, pathos, and brooding light that embody not only his personal sense of dislocation, but that of much of the population at large during the decade of the Depression. This work also reveals the critical importance of measure, which would continue to figure in Rothko’s art throughout his career. It was the city and its kaleidoscopic rectangularity—not landscape—that fueled Rothko’s work from the beginning…In the 1930s, the rectangle staged the vulnerable mortal figure; in the 1950s, the rectangle became the metaphysically vulnerable figure.” Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was born in Dvinsk, Russia and emigrated to the United States in 1913. At the age of eighteen, Rothko moved to New York and then attended Yale University from 1921 through 1923. In 1933, Rothko was awarded his first solo exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art (Oregon) and two years later co-founded “The Ten,” an independent group of artists devoted to expressionist and abstract painting, whose members included Ilya Bolotowsky, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Jack Kufeld, Louis Schanker, Joseph Solomon and Nahum Tschachbasov and Ben Zion. Employed by the Easel Division of the WPA in New York in 1936, Rothko later held numerous teaching positions at institutions including the California School of Fine Arts, Brooklyn College and the University of California at Berkeley. Rothko was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1969. Exhibited throughout the world, Rothko’s work has been the subject of major traveling exhibitions and retrospectives including ones at the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1961 and 1970), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, 1978-79), the Tate Gallery (London, 1987-88) and the Kawamura Memorial Art Museum in Sakura (Japan, 1995-96). Most recently, the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) organized the exhibition “Mark Rothko” in 1998 which subsequently traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, 1998) and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1999).



Klaus Kertess

2001. PaceWildenstein. Paperback

36 pages: 24 color illustrations; 10 ½ x 9 inches



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