09 October, 2007
Mark Rothko, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, from 6 October 2007 to 6 January 2008
For many years a major solo exhibition devoted to Mark Rothko has been expected in a public museum in Italy. The first exhibition that spread the knowledge of his work in our Country has been the one presented in the Venice Biennale in 1958. Few years later, in 1962, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome held a magnificent anthological exhibition, organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in close collaboration with the artist. Finally, in 1970, immediately after Rothko’s tragic death, has been installed a commemorative retrospective at Ca’ Pesaro in the ambit of the Venice Biennale,
Hence, this Mark Rothko retrospective curated by Oliver Wick and produced by the Azienda Speciale Palaexpo and Arthemisia, gives visitors a unique opportunity to see a vast selection of works by one of the greatest artists of the last century.
Rothko is generally known as an Abstract Expressionist, but he often refused to be identified as such. The exhibition aims to provide an overall picture of his production, while remaining faithful to his constant preoccupation with presenting his work in groups of carefully chosen paintings to increase their visual impact. Thus, the paintings for the exhibition have been selected and the layout determined according to precise criteria. There are about seventy paintings in all, as well as an important group of works on paper that illustrate specific aspects of each period in his career.
Where Rothko’s early works are concerned, the exhibition focuses on the relatively small paintings that has been prepared with chalk, the use of which tends to endow the colour with the delicate tones and thin consistency associated with the fresco. The influence of fifteenth-century Italian art, and Beato Angelico in particular, is evident in these pictures.
The tradition of the Italian Renaissance, and above all its frescoes, had a remarkable influence on the series of mural commissions pertaining to Rothko’s classic period. In fact, he explored its possibilities also in his Surrealist works, in which he gradually perfected the technique of applying extremely thin layers of colour, or washes.
Alongside a selection of his Multiforms, which are characterized by patches of colour and an original plastic-spatial effect, and were painted at the end of the first stage of his career, one can admire some of his subsequent paintings, with their ever-larger coloured rectangular fields.
The ‘classic’ Rothko, which consists in his more mature works made in the Fifties on large canvases, represents his most fascinating and celebrated period of activity, due to the remarkable quality of the colours, and to the originality and intensity of his compositions.
These include the large Mural from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (1952-53), the corpus of paintings from the room devoted to the artist at the 1958 Venice Biennale, where his art was first appreciated in Europe, and various works that originally belonged to Italian collections. While the Black-form paintings with their single dark square shapes, which he painted from 1960 on, evoke Rothko’s strong desire to create a spiritual space.
The exhibition ends with the artist’s last works, the Black on Gray paintings, a group that marks the climax of an oeuvre that steadily became more austere and moved towards new artistic horizons that were in direct relationship with the viewer.
The works on display have been lent by leading international museums: Fondation Beyeler, Basel; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Tate, London; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin; National Gallery of Art, Washington; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv.
Other works are on loan from private collections, including the important corpus belonging to Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel, without whom this exhibition could not have been realized.
The colored compositions that made him famous are here of course, the oils and acrylics on canvas, called Black over Reds, Dark Greens on Blue with Green Band, allusively N° 15, N° 20, N° 11 or, even more simply, Untitled. But the mysterious Mark Rothko, born in Russia and who committed suicide in New York on 25 February 1970, is also present with paintings that are even less expected since they are old «classics», that is figurative, among them surrealist works from his youth, a selfportrait from 1936 or Metro entrance from 1938.
In total, this is a real retrospective, with nearly 65 paintings, which the curator Oliver Wick managed to mount with loans from the funds of American, English, German, Canadian or Australian museums, as well as from the family's collections.
Given the prices reached by Rothko (73 million $ in May 2007), one can imagine that this t ype of gathering will become increasingly rare. While we await the opening of Maxxxi and Macro (the institutions dedicated to contemporary art designed by Zaha Hadid and Odile Decq), this is also a means of replacing Rome on the path of the major cultural events: the Palazzo delle Esposizioni will reopen to the public for this event following a long refurbishing.