Mark Rothko Exhibition Precedes Possible Auction Record
Advisory Perspective

Mark Rothko Exhibition Precedes
Possible Auction Record

By Laurie Barron | London, 7 October 2021

Mark Rothko's hallowed and transcendental paintings are soon to inaugurate Pace Gallery's new London space (8 October–13 November 2021)—located on the former site of Blain|Southern in Mayfair—indicating the gallery's confidence in London's post-pandemic and post-Brexit art market.

Rising to prominence during the peak of mid-century abstraction in North America, Rothko is revered as a master of the Colour Field Painting movement, alongside artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Clyfford Still, and Barnett Newman. For decades, his works have captured audiences for their transfixing visceral nature and ability to invoke sublime emotional experiences.

Emphasising his continuous search for purity of form, Rothko once said, 'The progression of a painter's work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer... To achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.'

Works by Rothko are included in the collections of some of the most prominent institutions worldwide: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and The National Museum of Art, Osaka, among many others. As such, the artist's works rarely come to the primary market.



The warm and seemingly throbbing, blood-red tones of Untitled (1968) recall Tate's 'Rothko Room' housing an immersive display of works that were initially conceived for the Seagram Building in New York. A tourist favourite, the paintings have recently been re-installed at Tate Britain.

The layered spectrum of blue tones in another standout work, Untitled (1968), recall a Rothko work—previously in Bunny Mellon's collection—that sold earlier this year at Christie's for an incredible $36.9 million.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (1968). Acrylic on paper mounted on board. 101.6 cm × 64.8 cm. Collection of Peter Marino © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.

Mark Rothko, Untitled (1968). Acrylic on paper mounted on board. 101.6 cm × 64.8 cm. Collection of Peter Marino © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. Courtesy Pace Gallery.

Rothko's auction record stands at $86.8 million for a work that sold for more than double its low estimate—also at Christie's—in 2012. The lot essay noted, Rothko's 'overt simplicity, directness and the establishment of a subtle and also tense equilibrium, expresses a reality that communicates itself unconsciously to the human psyche.'

Another work by the artist, No. 7 (1951), will be auctioned as part of the anticipated Macklowe Collection sale at Sotheby's New York, alongside works by Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly—both of which hold estimates of $40–60 million. Rothko and Giacometti's works are listed as 'estimate on request', indicating they have the potential to reach significant auction records for the artists.

Rothko's legacy also remains influential to younger generations of artists, with significant examples including Sheila Hicks, Brice Marden, and Pat Steir.

Rising star and New York-based painter Arcmanoro Niles recently noted that Rothko's colour usage was foundational for his practice. He explained, 'Rothko was the first artist who I felt a connection with... seeing Rothko's work and reading how he wanted the viewer to feel ecstasy, anguish, and desire—with only shape and color—resonated with me.'

Rothko has recently received many prominent solo exhibitions. Notable examples include Rothko & Me, Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam, Netherlands; Mark Rothko, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna (both 2019), and Mark Rothko: Reflection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2018). —[O]

Main image: Mark Rothko, Untitled (1968). Acrylic on paper mounted on panel. 60.6 cm × 47.6 cm × 3.5 cm. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. Courtesy Pace Gallery.

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