The oeuvre created by Mark Rothko (1903-1970) is both epic in scale and extraordinarily human and intimate in feeling. It has great appeal and attracts many passionate admirers. Painted layer upon layer, his colour fields are of unprecedented intensity and sensuality and communicate universal human emotions such as fear, ecstasy, grief and euphoria. Rothko was an intensely committed painter who invested his whole being in his art and, like many other great artists, led a difficult life. Deeply disillusioned by the two world wars and plagued by depression, he was a tormented soul, yet capable of producing great art with an enduring capacity to comfort and enthral. Exhibitions of his work still attract huge crowds and his paintings now fetch record sums at auction. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is therefore proud to announce a major new Mark Rothko exhibition, opening next September, more than forty years after the last exhibition of the artist’s work in the Netherlands.
Rothko was of Russian Jewish origin but grew up in America. Nothing in his background or family seems to have predestined him to become an artist. Indeed, he discovered his bent for painting only relatively late and more or less accidentally. He took some courses but always regarded himself as essentially self-taught. Rothko is famous for the ‘classic style’ he used from the 1950s onward. By painting large colour fields on outsize canvases, he aimed to use colour to evoke emotion: from jubilant yellow and pink to sombre blue and black. The vast square or rectangular monochromes seem to overflow their canvases and were intended by Rothko to overwhelm and engulf the viewer.
The exhibition will include plenty of these ‘classic style’ paintings but also examples of the less well-known early work, in which Rothko moved towards abstraction via a kind of Fauve-like Realism and a highly personal form of Surrealism. The exhibition will draw on recent research on Rothko’s transitional period. As home to the world’s greatest collection of work by Mondrian – an artist renowned for his own path towards abstraction – the Gemeentemuseum is a particularly appropriate place to examine Rothko’s somewhat similar artistic journey. This exhibition will consider both the analogy and the differences in the evolution of the two artists’ work.
By the early 1950s, Mondrian was famous in New York, whereas Rothko was still a nobody. That is probably why one art critic called his work ‘blurry Mondrians’. While publicly resisting this view, Rothko otherwise showed great respect for the older artist, once even saying that Mondrian was the most sensual artist he knew.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue containing essays by Harry Cooper, Franz-W. Kaiser, Joost Zwagerman and other writers.
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