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PROPERTY OF THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE MUSEUM'S ACQUISITIONS FUND

Mark Rothko
UNTITLED
Estimate
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Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
5,000,0007,000,000
LOT SOLD. 6,056,900 USD
JUMP TO LOT
33

PROPERTY OF THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART CHICAGO, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE MUSEUM'S ACQUISITIONS FUND

Mark Rothko
UNTITLED
Estimate
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
5,000,0007,000,000
LOT SOLD. 6,056,900 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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New York

Mark Rothko
1903 - 1970
UNTITLED
inscribed with the artist's name, dimensions, and estate number 2042.69 on the reverse
acrylic on paper mounted on canvas
78 1/2 by 58 1/2 in. 199.4 by 148.6 cm.
Executed in 1969.
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The following work is being considered for inclusion in the forthcoming Mark Rothko online Resource and Catalogue Raisonné of works on paper, compiled by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Provenance

Estate of the Artist (Estate no. 2042.69)
Pace Gallery, New York
Gift of the American Art Foundation to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 1995

Exhibited

London, Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, June - September 1987, p. 179, no. 90, illustrated in color, p. 188 (text)
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Mark Rothko, September 1987 - January 1988, no. 51, illustrated in color
Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Mark Rothko 1903-1970: Retrospektive der Gemälde, January - March 1988, p. 203, no. 65, illustrated in color
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, In the Shadow of Storms: Art of the Postwar Era, July 1996 - May 1997
Houston, The Menil Collection, Mark Rothko: The Chapel Commission, December 1996 - March 1997, p. 32, no. 37 (text)
Lisbon, Utopia Pavilion, Expo '98 (Lisbon World Exposition), May - September 1998
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, MCA DNA: New York School, June - September 2012

Literature

Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Collective Vision: Creating a Contemporary Art Museum, Chicago, 1996, p. 105, illustrated in color (in incorrect orientation)

Catalogue Note

“One of the most remarkable of Rothko’s triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine” (Michael Butor cited in: About Rothko, New York 1983, p. 189).

 

“Serenity and violence = intensity. Intensity = instant of utmost opposition” (Mark Rothko cited in: Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 1998, p. 10).

 

Standing before Mark Rothko’s large-scale painting on paper, Untitled, 1969, the viewer is struck by its vast and resonating sense of magnitude. In spite of its paper materiality, the work emits an aura of contemplative serenity that measures on par with the artist’s most esteemed and monumental paintings on canvas. Executed just a year before Rothko’s tragic death in 1970, the painting is rendered predominantly in a deeply penetrative black acrylic paint which has been distributed, in two void-like rectangular zones, over a searing color field of cobalt blue. This brilliance seeps out from the edges around the dark abyss and breaks through like light escaping from a vacuum, making manifest the art critic Dore Ashton’s assertion that Rothko “conjured light and he conjured shadow, as painters have always done, but he did so in the service of an ideal that transcended both, and that can only be felt and not thought.” (Dore Ashton cited in Bonnie Clearwater, Mark Rothko, New York 1984, p. 13) Rothko began his artistic career as a figurative painter, yet, in an age characterised by the futility of the Great Depression and two World Wars, he turned to abstraction in the 1940s as an unadulterated means of expression. Seeking to unearth emotion, sentiment and spirituality over rational representation and figurative form, Rothko went on to develop a visual practice that would forever change the landscape of painting.

In the last two years of his life, Rothko experienced a period of intense creativity during which he produced some of his most profound and ponderous paintings. In ill health and under doctor’s orders not to lift heavy canvases, Rothko turned increasingly to the more versatile medium of paper: he would have his studio assistant roll out a length of paper on the floor and, once it had reached the length he desired, would have a series of ten to fifteen sheets cut to approximately the same dimensions; these would then be tacked to the studio wall in a row where Rothko would begin to work on them, one by one. While unable to work on canvas of the same scale he was used to, Rothko's artistic ambition was at its apex in this late period of his life, resulting in paintings on paper as powerful, vast, and emotionally expansive as the present work. Paper, with its paradoxical ability to concurrently absorb and reflect light, in many ways reinvigorated Rothko’s quest for a harmonious and simplified pictorial language. Rothko had declared his painterly and philosophical intentions with his friend and fellow painter Adolph Gottlieb in 1943, stating: "We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal.” (Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb cited in Ibid., p. 10) In these later works, Rothko’s artistic aims are potently achieved. Untitled is the very embodiment of raw and primal sensation: the vibrant incandescence of his earlier paintings has been replaced by a more nuanced luminosity comprised of reductive form, minimal color, painterly gesture and a heavier mass of dark blackness against a thin and reverberating halo of deepest blue. The tonal gradients of the painting seem to vibrate against one another with a subtle yet effervescing energy, creating a field of color that is at once enveloping and impenetrable. Of drawing together such ostensibly polarised qualities, the artist explained: "Serenity and violence = intensity. Intensity = instant of utmost opposition." (Mark Rothko cited in: Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 10)

In 1964, Rothko received a commission from Dominique and John de Menil to create a body of murals for a nondenominational chapel in Houston, Texas. Known today as the Rothko Chapel, these paintings constitute some of the most important works of Rothko’s oeuvre. He worked on them between 1964 and 1967, to create an all-encompassing environment that would convey, through the mesmerizing conflation of color and form, the pure essence of illumination and darkness. Through a dramatic elicitation of what Rothko termed the "basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom," these murals rouse in their viewers a sensation of transcendental existence. (Mark Rothko cited in Rothko: Works on Paper, New York, 1984, p. 59) The dark and mysterious palette of these works began to filter into Rothko’s other paintings from this period, and indeed the present work evokes an analogous sense of pensive introspection and reflective thought, much like Matisse in his contemplative French Window at Collioure from 1914. Characterized by its lustrous, radiating blackness, impressive scale and enveloping mysticism, Untitled encapsulates the spiritual complexity of Rothko’s mature style. Often referred to as landscapes of the mind, these works are charged with a psychological intensity that speaks to a simultaneous contemplation of religion, existential transience, and the unknown dimensions of the universe at a time of ground-breaking scientific advancements in space travel. Through his technique of layering thin washes of paint over one another, creating variations in the thickness of paint, Rothko attained distinctions of colour, even within the same monochrome field. As the French writer Michel Butor stated, "one of the most remarkable of Rothko’s triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine." (Michel Butor cited in About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189) With its mottled, intensely rich and iridescent surface, the present painting is situated amongst the largest and most spectacular manifestations of the artist’s work on paper.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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New York