MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
Emitting a serene yet steady aura of shimmering hue, the luminescent multiforms of Untitled from 1968 powerfully attest to the singular mastery of light, color, and form achieved by Mark Rothko in his revered corpus of works on paper. A rare, exquisitely vibrant example from a period characterized by a predominantly somber palette, Untitled stands as a stirring testament to a medium that bore an increasingly profound significance to Rothko in the twilight years of his legendary career when, tirelessly seeking to broaden the horizons of his prodigious practice, he focused his energies upon exploring the absolute limits of painting on paper. Testifying to the caliber of the present work, Untitled was included in the artist’s celebrated retrospective of 1998-1999, organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and travelling to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Presenting the breathtaking culmination of the artist’s signature strategies, Untitled is amongst the most emphatic embodiments of Bonnie Clearwater’s description of the exceptional beauty of the late works on paper: “Although, as previously noted, Rothko never abandoned bright colors in his works on paper, the vibrant late works on paper contain a force not experienced in the earlier small works…These late creations, with their dense unmodulated surfaces, do not flicker with light; rather, they generate a strong, constant glow.” (Exh. Cat., New York, American Federation of the Arts, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, 1984, p. 54-55)
A paragon of the artist’s late works on paper, Untitled represents the exquisite culmination of Rothko’s career-long pursuit of aesthetic transcendence through the conflation of pure color and light. While predominantly known and revered for his corpus of towering abstract canvases, Rothko produced a number of exceptional paintings on paper throughout the entirety of his career that, in their subtly variegated hues and inherent luminosity, rank amongst the richest orchestrations of color within his prodigious output. Describing the significance of the medium within his oeuvre, Clearwater reflects: “throughout his career, [Rothko] produced many lesser known works on paper which share characteristics with his canvases while exhibiting their own special qualities. These works….are essential to a fuller understanding of Rothko’s career. Together with the canvases, the works on paper chart the artist’s quest for an elemental language that would communicate basic human emotions and move all mankind.” (Ibid., p. 17) In the late 1960s, after completing the two commissions whose magisterial brilliance cemented his status as one of America’s most revered abstractionists—the Seagram Murals, and the Rothko Chapel paintings commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil—Rothko pursued the intricate subtleties of painting on paper with unprecedented focus; evincing the artist’s incessant artistic probing, Rothko described the impetus behind this shift in his practice from canvas to paper with the following: “…to whom a certain medium becomes too easy and who runs this risk of becoming too skilled in that medium, to try another which presents more difficulties to them.” (Ibid. p. 59) Exposing the artist’s most intimate and acute sensitivities, the prevailing majority of these works demonstrate a magnified introspection articulated in an increasing tendency towards darker hues, exemplified in the somber Brown and Gray and hauntingly meditative Black on Gray works. From this late corpus, Untitled emerges as a rare jewel of luminescent vibrancy, conjuring the radiant sublimity of his most esteemed monumental canvases upon a delicately intimate scale. Reflecting upon the ethereal beauty of the late works on paper, Brian O’Doherty describes, “The color—ochres and umbers, scumbled whites, silvery grays and light blues—is more forthcoming than in the black paintings, but in a subdued way…The surfaces absorb and reflect an equal amount of weight. As a result, the two areas often ‘weigh’ the same, though weight may not be the word to apply to works that have a swift and wonderful lightness.” (Brian O’Doherty, “Chamber Music in the Next Room,” in Exh. Cat., New York, The Pace Gallery, Mark Rothko, the Last Paintings, 1994, p. 9)
Hovering above a diaphanous field of iridescent blue, the richly painterly forms of Untitled enact a bewitching tension between tranquil presence and suggested absence; while the rich, burnished crimson is bound by a delicate border of shadowy brushwork, the pearly white form below appears to absorb the hues and tones which surround it, emanating an aura of contemplative serenity that invites the viewer to lose him or herself in the ethereal abstraction. Here, the enveloping sublimity of the artist’s earlier canvases achieves new luminosity through paper’s unique capacity to both absorb and reflect light, imbuing the atmospheric hues of Untitled with particular and bewitching ambience. Describing the singular aesthetic allure of the series, O’Doherty remarks: “A set of echoes from the furious equivocations of previous work remains: sensuality is now expressed in tonal elegance; absolutism is remembered in the binary nature of the rectangles as they flirt with the idea of a single form; all that remains of the tragic is a wisp of anxiety. A calming sense pervades; all passion is not spent, for tranquility has been remembered with some emotion.” (Ibid., p. 9) Articulated with particular delicacy in this intimate medium, the suggestion of tranquility inherent to Rothko’s investigations of the sublime finds its resolution in the blurred forms and tonal subtleties of Untitled, offering a narrative for the artist’s last years far removed from the brooding melancholia suggested by darker late works. Reflecting upon the stirring significance of these rare, colorful jewels within Rothko’s late works on paper, one scholar eloquently describes: “They present a very different view of the artist in his final days. Rather than providing us, as popular myth solicits, with a dramatic requiem, they are works of great control, peacefulness, delicacy and distance, like chamber music overheard from the next room. There could be no more graceful preface to a departure.” (Ibid., p. 9)
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