The Rothko Room

Group visits

Although best known for his oil paintings, Mark Rothko also produced numerous works in acrylic. Rothko painted Untitled in the final year of his life as he was recovering from the lingering effects of an aneurysm. Because he lacked the physical strength and stamina that his usual painting technique required, Rothko turned instead to acrylics on paper, a medium that also allowed him to work more experimentally and spontaneously. During this period, Rothko typically worked in a somber palette of greens, blues and blacks. For Untitled, however, he has returned instead to the multi-layered reds and yellows that characterized his early multiform paintings.

Rothko also insisted that his acrylics on paper be presented unframed and without glass covering their surfaces, thus ensuring that there would be no separation between the viewer and the works of art. This sense of immediacy was of paramount important to the artist, who aimed to purposefully overwhelm the viewer with bold expanses of color. He hoped that this effect of being “enveloped within” the painting would bring about an emotional or even spiritual response.

As confirmed by his son Christopher, Rothko envisioned the creation of spiritual “chapels” along the sides of highways throughout the country where weary travelers could stop and contemplate one painting. This vision inspired the KMA’s The Rothko Room, which offers guests the opportunity to spiritually re-charge in the presence of a single masterpiece, as Rothko intended. 
 

Past Installations

Artist

Russian-born Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970), one of the United States’ greatest mid 20th-century painters, is often identified with the American Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s and with the Color Field movement of the 1960s, though he steadfastly denied that his work was either. One of the preeminent artists of his generation, Mark Rothko is closely identified with the New York school, a circle of painters that emerged during the 1940s as a new collective voice in American art. During a career that spanned five decades, he created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting.

In early 1968, Mark Rothko (1903-70) suffered an aortic aneurysm. It was mild as far as aortic aneurysms go. Yet for the great abstract expressionist painter it was a close brush with death. It came at the apex of his career – and after a life of limited exercise, unbridled drinking and constant smoking. Rothko refused to listen to his doctors on all three. But he did follow one prescription. He put aside the enormous canvases that had become his signature and instead began painting on smaller pieces of paper, using acrylic and tempera instead of oil. 

Rothko's work is characterized by rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale; yet, he refused to consider his paintings solely in these terms. He explained: "It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.

Exhibition Support

The Rothko Room is made possible with the support of Christopher Rothko and the generous sponsorship of Ellen and Bob Grimes. 

Credits

Mark Rothko. Untitled, 1969, Acrylic on paper mounted on panel, 40 × 26-1/2 in (101.6 × 67.3 cm). Artworks on paper by Mark Rothko Copyright © 2020 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. 
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969, Acrylic on paper, 53⅝ x 42⅜ in, Rothko Estate #2032.69, Collection of Christopher Rothko, Copyright ©2021 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. Reproduction, including downloading of Rothko artworks, is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express permission of the copyright holder.  Requests for reproduction should be directed to Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Mark Rothko, Untitled (Still-life with Clock and Vase), 1938/1939, Oil on gesso board, 12 ¼ x 15 ⅜ x 1 ⅜ in. (framed), Copyright ©1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. Reproduction, including downloading of Rothko artworks, is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express permission of the copyright holder.  Requests for reproduction should be directed to Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1948, Oil on canvas, 54 1/8 x 38 3/8 inches, Collection of Christopher Rothko, ©1998 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. Reproduction, including downloading of Rothko artworks, is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express permission of the copyright holder.  Requests for reproduction should be directed to Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1951, Oil on canvas, 67 ⅝ x 44 ⅝ inches, 5164.54, CR#462, Collection of Christopher Rothko, Copyright ©1998 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.  Reproduction, including downloading of Rothko artworks, is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express permission of the copyright holder.  Requests for reproduction should be directed to Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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