Pace exhibits rarely seen paintings on paper from the final years of Mark Rothko's life

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Pace exhibits rarely seen paintings on paper from the final years of Mark Rothko's life
‘Mark Rothko 1968: Clearing Away’, Pace Gallery, 5 Hanover Square, London, October 8 – November 13, 2021. Artwork on paper by Mark Rothko Copyright © 2020 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko. Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy Pace Gallery.

LONDON.- Pace inaugurated its new London gallery with Mark Rothko 1968: Clearing Away, an exhibition of rarely seen paintings on paper from the final years of Mark Rothko’s life. On view October 8 – November 13 at 5 Hanover Square, this landmark exhibition is the first in the United Kingdom that is solely dedicated to the artist’s extraordinary paper-based practice. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring an introduction by Christopher Rothko and a new essay by art historian Eleanor Nairne, curator at the Barbican Art Gallery.

Mark Rothko 1968: Clearing Away brings together key paintings from Rothko’s renowned body of work made in the late 1960s—a significant and prolific period in the artist’s life. In the wake of a particularly difficult bout of ill health and a tumultuous time in his personal life, Rothko was forced to reduce the scale of his practice from his signature monumental canvas to more intimately sized paper. Despite physical limitations, Rothko worked feverishly with a renewed enthusiasm for color, delighted by the effect of acrylic paint, which he had newly discovered.

These jewel-like paintings encourage intimate examination, offering a meditative, pulsating quality that envelops viewers within their frame. Rendered in an array of pigments, from the deepest blue to riotous pink, Rothko’s manipulation of color and light is masterful. Central to his iconic sectional compositions is Rothko’s unique negotiation of space. He creates visual tension through rectangular forms that are at once contained yet expansive. Rothko’s expert layering and feathering of color creates the illusion of luminous, infinite space, yet the painting’s edge maintains focus within the color-field.

Greatly influenced by the writings of Nietzsche—who advocated for the importance of an artist’s freedom from the physical world in order to arrive at ideas of eternity and the mythic—Rothko explained that his ultimate ambition was "the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer." The paintings borne from this singular moment in the artist’s life represent the realization of this lifelong endeavor, showcasing his enduring will to clear away all ties to representation and refine his vision of boundlessness.

The comparatively small scale of these works allows viewers an intimate encounter, fulfilling Rothko’s desire to collapse boundaries between artist and viewer. Rothko playfully suggested that the optimal distance from which to engage with these works was 18 inches away, mirroring his own proximity to the paintings as he made them. This exhibition offers viewers a rare glimpse into the artist’s more spontaneous practice as he experimented with color and medium, unencumbered by the demands of large-scale canvases.

This exhibition coincides with Tate Britain’s landmark display of Rothko’s 1958 Seagram Murals in dialogue with paintings by J.M.W. Turner. The suite of large-scale paintings originally intended for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York were given by the artist to the Tate in 1969, arriving in London in 1970. This new display marks 50 years since the iconic paintings came to London, fulfilling Rothko’s wish to have his work hung beside the British painter he deeply admired.

Mark Rothko 1968: Clearing Away is the first exhibition in Pace’s new London gallery on Hanover Square. The opening program also features Liquid a Place, a collaborative performance and sculptural installation by Torkwase Dyson presented by Pace Live.

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