No. 14 by Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1960, oil on canvas, 290.83 cm x 268.29 cm. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - Helen Crocker Russell Fund purchase © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko - ADAGP, Paris, 2023


Mark Rothko at Full Scale, and in Half Light

Review for The New York Times

by Jason Farago

Melt the world away, lose its details, dissolve its borders; it doesn’t sound like such an unwelcome prospect right now. The most substantial Mark Rothko retrospective in a generation has opened at the (opens in a new window) Fondation Louis Vuitton, and it is a show of monumental dispersion: a pull-out-all-the-stops blockbuster where life passes into vapor.

From 1949, when his early figurative pictures finally liquefied into stains of translucent color, Rothko painted with no allusions, no particulars. Over and over, in soft-edged blocks layered on filmy backgrounds, he modeled a commitment to abstraction that charged at the hardest questions of life and art through refusal of the easy path. A lot of people find his large paintings consoling, or seek the Romantic sublime in the depths of his reds and violets. Rothko never thought of them as peaceable. “Behind the color lies the cataclysm,” he said in 1959 — a citation that rarely makes the auction preview catalogs.

His misty abstractions are now so beloved, and their prices so elevated (one was for sale for $40 million at Paris+, the Art Basel spinoff here last week), that we might feel we know Rothko backward and forward. Yet it’s been 25 whole years since the last full-scale exhibition, organized by the (opens in a new window) National Gallery of Art in Washington and later seen at the Whitney in New York. To mount a Rothko retrospective of this scale — there are 115 works at the Fondation Vuitton, spanning all four floors of its Frank Gehry-designed glass schooner in the Bois de Boulogne — is a far heavier lift than it was in 1998, now that costs have reached such extremes that almost no public museum could afford it.

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  • Press — The New York Times Reviews Mark Rothko at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Oct 25, 2023