Mark Rothko, famous for his captivating color field paintings, has a side that’s often overshadowed. In Paris, the Fondation Louis Vuitton peels back the layers of Rothko’s evolution in a stunning exhibition across four floors of its Frank Gehry–designed building.
A Personal Dream Fulfilled
Bernard Arnault, a collector and the president of the Fondation, expressed his personal longing for this exhibition in the catalog. He sees each of Rothko’s works as truly unique. With Suzanne Pagé and Christopher Rothko, the artist’s son, as curators, this exhibition is a real gem.
The Colorful Evolution
The ground floor of the museum immerses visitors in Rothko’s journey towards color field abstraction, which marked his breakthrough during the 1950s. This may technically be in the middle of the exhibition, but it’s a great place to start. You can contrast these vibrant works with his earlier figurative pieces and his later, deeper and richer palettes. The 1950s works are all about brightness and levity, a stark contrast to his later, darker style.
Highlights from the Show
“Light Cloud, Dark Cloud” from 1957, borrowed from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is a prime example. It combines an intense central red with a swath of rose and a bright block of white. Next to it hangs
Another standout, back in 1958, there’s this painting called “No. 15.” It made a splash when it snagged a whopping $8.9 million at a Christie’s New York auction back in 2004. Now, what’s cool about it is how it plays with colors. In the lower part of the canvas, you’ve got these smooth transitions between navy and violet. And that faded eggplant background? It’s like the finishing touch that ties the whole artwork together.
Exploring Mark Rothko Lesser-Known Sides
This exhibition isn’t just about showcasing Rothko’s iconic works; it’s an opportunity to explore his lesser-known facets. His early pieces are quite different from his signature style. Particularly intriguing are the untitled works from the 1930s that depict subway stations. These early works show the origins of Rothko’s fascination with space and color.
An untitled painting from 1941–42 divides into three sections: faces, torsos, and hands/feet, each with sharp lines between them. This hints at Rothko’s journey toward his iconic color field compositions.
Mark Rothko Transformation: A Revelation
As the 1940s drew to a close, Rothko’s abstractions began to feature multiple blocks of paint. His brushwork became looser, and his paintings started to vibrate with shifts in tones. The 1950s marked the pinnacle of his career as an artist, a fact that hits you like a ton of bricks when you reach the room dedicated to these masterpieces.
The “Seagram Murals” and a Hidden Gem
The exhibition houses Rothko’s renowned “Seagram Murals,” on loan from Tate Britain. But don’t overlook a slightly lesser-known piece that precedes them: “No. 9 (White and Black on Wine)” from 1958. It showcases vibrant red against deep maroon and offers a glimpse into Rothko’s experimentation with similar tones in the “Seagram Murals.”
Unearthing Hidden Treasures
While many art enthusiasts obsess over Rothko’s iconic pieces, this exhibition shines a light on the artworks that rarely see the spotlight. In the “Black and Gray, Giacometti” gallery, you’ll find Rothko’s final series, “Black and Gray” (1969–70), paired with sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. These paintings reveal a transition to acrylic paint, which gives them a matte quality and, at times, a sense of severity.
Mark Rothko Legacy
The exhibition inevitably feels incomplete because Rothko’s life was cut short by suicide in 1970. We can only wonder where his art might have gone next. However, the show emphasizes the enduring importance, innovation, and value of what Rothko brought into the world. His paintings remain among the most contemplative and meditative art of the 20th century and beyond.