The Ochre (Ochre, Red on Red) by Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko, The Ochre (Ochre, Red on Red), 1954, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, acquired 1960 © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko - ADAGP, Paris, 2023


Robert Longo on Mark Rothko

‘A Small Battle Scene Occurs Where the Colours Meet’

Published Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023 in Frieze Magazine

When you say Mark Rothko’s name, it is as if you are speaking of something so big that language cannot contain it. It’s like asking, ‘Where does the universe begin and end?’

On my first viewing of this extensive Rothko survey at Fondation Louis Vuitton, I spent about three hours going from room to room and back again, looking at details up close and then stepping away, losing myself in his works. Co-organized by the foundation’s artistic director, Suzanne Pagé, and the artist’s son, Christopher Rothko, this Herculean adventure of an exhibition establishes the two as curators of epic mysteries. Arranged chronologically, the works increase in intensity as Rothko progressed through various stages of his practice. When the artist first began searching for what would become his classic colour field paintings, between the late 1940s and early 1950s, his handling of paint was gentle, precise, seductive and searching – almost like he was trying to coax something out of the canvas. Then, Rothko’s application became more aggressive. Some of these paintings were screaming. A small battle scene occurs at some edges where the colours meet. At others, the colours gently kiss. To experience in person about 70 of these classic paintings – one of art history’s most iconic bodies of work – is overwhelming. Each painting has its own spotlight, allowing the viewer to experience the singularity of that canvas. And yet, upon stepping back, a spectacular vista of paintings appears. The radiant colours of each work float and interact with one another. 

I can’t help but see a horizon line in many of his early works. Is the horizon line the origin of abstraction? The predominantly vertical compositions incite the reverie that one has while staring through a window towards where the sky meets the earth. I think about Rothko’s journey as a ten-year-old from Russia to America, leaning on the railing of the ship, staring out at the sea en route to Ellis Island, New York; the vastness of the ocean is so uncluttered. How poignant that in his last series, the ‘Black on Gray’ paintings (1969–70), he would return to the horizon line, a symbolic coming and going. 

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  • Press — Robert Longo on Mark Rothko, Nov 29, 2023