Fondation Louis Vuitton presents the first retrospective in France dedicated to Mark Rothko (1903-1970) since the exhibition held at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1999. The extensive retrospective traces the career of the abstract expressionist back to his origins as a figurative painter, bringing together 115 works from important international institutional collections including; the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; the Tate in London; and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. Also featured are works from international private collections, including the collection of the artist’s family.
Less than a decade old, relatively young in relation to some of Paris’s most venerated museums, the Fondation Louis Vuitton stages exhibitions of world-class artists. Frank Gehry’s flamboyant sail-shaped glass building has housed exhibitions of some of America’s most prominent artists, including Joan Mitchell and Basquiat & Warhol in 2023, with Ellsworth Kelly set to succeed the Rothko exhibition in 2024, giving the Fondation a reputation as a kind of French embassy for American art.
Displayed chronologically across the Fondation’s galleries, the exhibition traces the artist’s entire career from his earliest figurative paintings to the abstract works that became his enduring artistic signature.
Staged in the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Bologne in Paris, the exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Rothko’s seminal abstract expressionist masterpieces including the Seagram Murals, which were previously on display at Tate Modern in London, and the Phillips Collection of 1960, known as the first ‘Rothko Room’. Also on display is a selection of rarely seen figurative early paintings by Rothko that kick off with his only self-portrait – a mysterious bespectacled artist of 1936 – and a series of paintings of the New York City subway executed in the 1930s. This introduction to fledgling artist Rothko is followed by a room of paintings that bridge the gap between figuration and abstraction, documenting his breakthrough works that led to his most iconic abstract canvases. These gateway paintings are inspired by ancient myths and surrealism, coupled with an artistic translation of the human condition as a metaphor for the human tragedy experienced during World War II.
Rothko made a pivot towards abstraction from 1946, beginning with his ‘Multiformes’, which feature masses of colour almost floating in space and balancing upon each other. Rothko slowly reduced the number of forms, abstracting them and simplifying the palette until he arrived at his iconic ‘classical’ works of the 1950s, populated by rectangular shapes with a palette of ochre, orange, yellow and red, as well as tones of blue, purple and white.
Rothko was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant designed by Philip Johnson for the Seagram Building in 1958. He ended up abandoning the commission and keeping the series of paintings, donating them to the Tate in London 11 years later. Eleven years later, in 1969, the artist donated nine of these paintings to the Tate. For any Rothko lovers who miss the Rothko room at Tate Modern, it’s worth making an art pilgrimage to Paris to see the paintings reunited at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
The exhibition culminates with Rothko’s Black and Grey series of 1969-1970, which are exhibited with Alberto Giacometti sculptures in the highest room of Frank Gehry’s building.
The exhibition is a truly meditative experience that demonstrates the transformative power of art, Rothko’s mission to create a dialogue with the viewer without words, and his ability to translate human emotion onto canvas. Mark Rothko at Fondation Louis Vuitton is certainly one for the bucket list of any art lover.
Mark Rothko – 2nd April, 2024, Fondation Louis Vuitton