On view through 2 April 2024 at the Fondation Louis Vuitton is a retrospective devoted to Mark Rothko. It brings together 115 works from various international collections, and is a chronological rundown of his career, from the early figurative paintings to the abstractions for which he is now best known.
The exhibition starts with intimate scenes and urban landscapes of the kind that dominate Rothko’s output in the 1930s. From 1946 on he made an important shift towards abstract expressionism. The first phase of this switch included Multi-forms, where chromatic masses were suspended in a kind of equilibrium on the canvas. Gradually these decreased in number, and the spatial organization of his painting rapidly evolved towards the ‘classic’ Rothkos of the 1950s, where rectangular shapes overlapped in accordance with a binary or ternary rhythm, characterized by shades of yellow, red, ochre, and orange, but also blue, white…
In 1958, Rothko was commissioned to produce a series of wall paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant designed by Philip Johnson for the Seagram Building in New York, the construction of which was overseen by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Rothko later decided not to deliver the paintings, keeping them for himself. Eleven years later, the artist donated nine of them – which differed from the previous ones on account of their deep red hues – to the Tate Gallery. This set is featured in the current Fondation show.
While Rothko preferred darker tones and muted contrasts since the late 1950s, he never completely abandoned his palette of bright colors. Some of his works on display in the exhibition are placed alongside sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, creating an environment close to what Rothko had in mind for a UNESCO commission that was never realized.